I have a wonderful, gentle old golden retriever named Sam. He is 10 years old this year, and because he is very large, even for a golden retriever, the vet told me at his recent checkup that he is nearing his expected life span (he isn't fat, just big). Currently he is quite healthy for his age, but he is noticeably stiffer and slower than he was even a year ago, and he also is going deaf and has cataracts.
I got to thinking about the cataracts after the checkup with the vet...in humans, we are told that cataracts in the elderly are caused by protein changes in the eye due to "wear and tear" and radiation damage. But dogs the size of Sam live on average 8 times less long than humans. And dogs' eyes are not significantly different in composition to human eyes. So wear and tear and radiation damage don't seem at all to be the whole picture when a dog's eye lens gets cloudy 8 times faster than a human's lens.
It would seem to me that our bodies (both dog and human) obviously must have a wonderous ability to repair radiation damage when we are young. And that when we age, this ability must become severely impaired. It is amazing how quickly degradation of this ability to repair results in permanent damage to the lens. In Sam his cataracts only showed up a couple of years ago.
It is sad to watch the ravages of time affect a dog like Sam, especially when it seems like just yesterday that he was cavorting through the fields at Fermilab like a puppy.
After sleeping on the events of yesterday regarding the desk and the neighbours (see a couple posts down), I feel much better. More and more often these days I ask myself, what would Buddha do? A central tenent of Buddhism is that all misery stems from attachment to things. This of course includes material things (such as a desk that you like for instance), but also more abstract things like careers, or even life itself. Buddha sure as hell wouldn't have gotten angry over a desk, and he wouldn't get angry over the behaviour of his neighbour's children (as an aside, I wonder what kind of neighbour Buddha would be...he probably wouldn't disturb the neighbourhood peace too much, but would he mow his lawn?)
More astute readers of this blog may have noticed that the blog byline changed some time back. I simply got tired of being angry about the loss of my career. The loss of my career wasn't a choice I would have made for myself, but the career is gone now and railing against the hand I've been dealt in life isn't going to change it. It is time to move on and be happy in a different life. All my life I dreamed of going to Italy, and instead somehow I ended up in Holland. So why not enjoy Holland now that I'm here?
I am also letting go of all the statistical studies I have done of gender inequity in the sciences. Those studies always made me very unhappy and angry because the results were invariably the same. And the Nature article back in April about one of my studies resulted in a series of events that was very hard on myself and my husband. It is time to move on and never look back. I occassionally still get asked when I will publish the Fermilab study that was the subject of the Nature article. The answer is never...to what good end is publication? The many naysayers will still be naysayers if the study was published, and the many people who firmly believe the study reveals an ugly truth will always feel that way. Most importantly, I will be much happier if I choose not dwell on the subject anymore and move on with my life. The personal cost of dwelling on it further is much, much too high (as unfortunately was made very clear in the aftermath of the Nature article). And anger, even righteous anger, is very damaging to one's own happiness.
So, more and more these days, I ask myself what Buddha would do, and the answer is often to let go of anger and unnecessary attachments; the angry feelings of yesterday were but a bump on that path. I have been a lot happier in the last 9 to 12 months since I have conciously tried to let go of being angry. By gum, maybe that Buddha was on to something...
For my summer reading I've set myself the task of learning more about the American Revolution and the Civil War. When we first immigrated to America 11 years ago, my husband and I got videos and books out of the local library to learn about the wars America has fought; few things tell you more about the belief system of a country than the wars they choose to fight, and the manner in which they fight them. I am the complete anti-thesis of "a war buff", but I do know it is critically important to learn about a country's history of war if you are to understand the country itself.
In Canada, school children don't learn about the Revolution or the Civil War. Or the Vietnam War. Thus Mr.Absinthe and I were woefully ignorant of the history of these wars when we moved here. The books we read back then were mainly from the teen section of the library because they gave a simplified version of events that was easy and quick to digest.
But now, on our way to citizenship, it is time to re-visit the war history of America, this time in greater depth. I started the summer off with 1776 by David McCullough. This book was a tough read, and not very engaging. I am not sure why 1776 got such rave reviews. I had read McCullough's history of the Johnstown Flood several years ago and found it a much more engaging read.
An author I've come across who does an excellent job of describing America's past wars in a manner that flows wonderfully is James L. Stokesbury, an (apparent) American who was a professor of history at Acadia University in Canada (I didn't know he was a Canadian transplant when I first came across his books). Alas, he died in 1995, so we will never know if he intended to write about Vietnam or even Desert Storm. Before his death he wrote books entitled A Short History of the American Revolution, A Short History of the Civil War, A Short History of WWI, A Short History of WWII, and A Short History of the Korean War. I've read the WWII book (it was excellent) and I am currently reading the Civil War book (also excellent). Next on tap is the book about the American Revolution.
When I re-visit the Vietnam war this fall I won't have Stokesbury to guide me. However, what I have already learned about that war has been very instructive about various aspects of the American collective psyche that had this country getting involved in an interminable and unwinnable war (unfortunately, twice over now). It is the "twice over now" aspect that still mystifies me, and I have no idea to which books I should turn to explain to me how a nearly identical monumental mistake could be made a second time within living memory of the first mistake (I am talking here, of course, about the Iraq War); it is hard to find authors that distance themselves enough from the topic to be apolitical enough to just outline the strengths and weaknesses of the political decisions and public sentiments that lead to getting involved in a war (Stokesbury, for instance, does this really well).