When I take my car out for a drive to keep it running, it gives me time away from my computer. These drives give me some “outside” time to think. I notice the people outside of my automotive bubble passing by on foot, on bicycles, and in other cars. Many are masked, but not all. I think about friends and family and how things have changed for all of them over the years. I think about my theater community. Before we became aware of the pandemic in early 2020, music and theater had been a primary focus in my life, much more so since I retired from my engineering career several years ago. While many in that community are now back in productions, collaborating freely and enjoying the comradery they missed for so many months, others like myself are not. There are still huge risks because of the ever looming pandemic that weren’t there before.
I think about how public discourse has changed over the last several years, and not necessarily for the better. Even before the pandemic, there was a lot of anger everywhere. Worldwide there have always been big issues, but at various times it somehow felt safe being far away from the major armed conflicts and societal upheavals. No more. The world has gotten smaller. And yet, there are also major acts of kindness to help those in need by friends, acquaintances, and by those I will never know personally.
I think about how at our core, we all need the same things. At the most basic level we all need shelter, clean water, food, and clothing. We all want acceptance, friendship, and love at some level. In a modern society, we also need our urban infrastructure including power, sanitation, transportation, and basic healthcare for our well-being.
Humans are curious creatures. We have a unique understanding of the world around us, and compared to many other species, we have a greater capacity to impact our environments in ways that have extremely far reaching effects. We also have the capability to help one another in ways that others species cannot.
I marvel at the remarkable medical advancements that have allowed a greater quality of life for much longer than even just a few decades ago, and yet the raging pandemic is still wreaking havoc across the globe. Doctors and scientists worldwide have come out with robust vaccines in record time, and yet in the U.S. there are those who use political misinformation to rail against common sense public health measures to bring the pandemic under control.
I think about our astonishing advancements in technology that have made our lives richer in so many ways, and yet as a society, we try to limit who can participate fully based on price. We use our concept of money to exclude those who cannot pay. That reminds me of the central conceit of an opera I once played – Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. In that world, anything goes, and the only crime is not being able to pay one’s bills which crystalized the hazards of unrestrained capitalism gone mad.
I think about how humankind is the only species that actually has the capacity to understand how to limit our growth voluntarily, and yet we fight over exercising that control individually because of our arrogance and adherence to philosophical concepts based not in fact, but in fiction. I think about how we have the capability to ensure that nobody has to struggle for the essential things in life, and yet so many people refuse to do their part for the good of society seemingly reveling in the suffering of others.
I think about the perils of climate change and the difficulty we are having as a society with those who deny its existence despite the evidence in front of us all. Over the course of my life, I’ve watched how our climate has changed because of human intervention. While wildfires were always a concern in the west, they’ve never raged as they have in the past few years. Temperatures have risen, and water has become scarcer. At the same time, flooding is a major threat elsewhere, and severe weather events are becoming commonplace everywhere.
I think about how I was raised. My parents and grandparents taught me to do my best in all that I did, and that mindset has been with me throughout my life. My motivation for achievement wasn’t really about money. It was about learning and growing and contributing to the whole. Of course I wanted to be paid fairly for my work in my career, but the satisfaction didn’t come from my salary.
I think about how once in a while, I would accept a gig on a show I didn’t particularly like as a favor to a music director, and in those cases I would sometimes joke about it being a mercenary endeavor. In reality though it wasn’t. It was really about mastering the music and contributing to the whole. It wasn’t about being better than anyone else. It was about working together on something where every piece mattered and together made something beautiful.
I think about how we look upon the past wondering how people could have taken the actions they did in times of crisis. We are going through tumultuous times in the present, and I wonder what stories will be told about this era in the future, if indeed there is a future far enough removed from what’s happening now. In the U.S. we are seeing events unfold that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago. I think about the major events we lived through in my lifetime and wonder what more could have been done before things got as divided as they are now. The politics of division that are so rampant today and have been growing since the 1980s are doing much to destroy the fabric of American society.
I think about the importance of our democratic institutions and traditions, and I wonder how we can strengthen them before it’s too late. They are under attack now as never before, and it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon.
And then I think about the good we could do if we choose to do so.