16 November 2009

why am I so fortunate, part II

[caption id="attachment_246" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of Learn Share Act"]Image courtesy of Learn Share Act[/caption]

Again its time to count my blessings, so here goes.

I've lived in Oklahoma long enough now (12 years) that it feels like home. When I drive into Oklahoma City and see that familiar shape of the downtown skyline, I know I've made it. Getting in touch with my Okie side, I really enjoy watching shows on television about Oklahoma History. Specifically, the Dust Bowl era is a time period which is fascinating to me. My grandfather-in-law was an adolescent during that time and they did the whole "sharecroppers-riding the running boards-grapes of wrath-move to California sort of thing" way back then.

Tonight, while watching "An American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl", I wondered, why am I so fortunate to live in the time in which I live? I mean, do we live in a time now, which future generations will look back on and be thankful they didn't live through? It was interesting to hear the survivors (who were all little children in those days) say things like "what did we do to cause this" or "is this really going to be the end of the world?" That sentiment is in stark contrast to the prevailing attitudes of today, when we hear things like "that group over there has caused the woes of today" or "this is all so-and-so's fault".

I guess life really is all about your perspective. On this side of the Dust Bowl, it is easy to see what the causes were and how mankind contributed to the disaster. However, in those days, I'm sure it was overwhelming to consider surviving. I can imagine that families could only see the dust. Everything was obscured by the dust. Security, happiness, fellowship, the hood of the car (at times), all blotted out by the never-ending cloud of dust. I doubt they could see any other problems in life. I'm sure their mission in life, at that time, was just to survive.

So, why am I able to do so much more than survive? Why do I get to live in a great home, have a great job (doing something I love and am passionate about), work with interesting people, be blessed with a fantastic wife and two amazing kids? What did I ever do to deserve all this (and the myriad of blessings I am not listing here)?

Or, is the it that I didn't do anything to deserve it? Is it more like there are some people who work to be happy and  then there are those who have happiness thrust upon them? (Did you get the "Night at the Museum" reference?) I think I have worked to be happy. I have worked hard to find a job doing something I love and about which I am passionate. Lord only knows I waited long enough. (In case you don't know, I didn't start teaching until I was 38 years old.) I work hard at my marriage. I have, and still do, put a lot of effort into the relationship I have with my children.

[caption id="attachment_248" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Brittanica"]Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Brittanica[/caption]

Maybe it is simply that I took a piece of advice my dad gave me way back when I was 18, on the day I was leaving to enter the Navy: "Son, I hope you will be content in whichever state you find yourself". Of course I'm paraphrasing his exact words since he most likely would have ended the sentence with a preposition, but I digress. We both laughed about that little saying, since I was leaving for a different state that day. Both a different state literally and figuratively. That's one piece of advice I have never forgotten and hopefully, I won't ever.

I suppose what I am trying to say is this: Life is what you make of it. If you simply see dust all around you, so much so that you can't see the hood of the car, you'll probably live in the dust bowl your whole life. But if you consider that you are surrounded by people who care about you; people who may be going through the same lung-choking, blinding dust you are. Well then you have changed your perspective and things probably look a bit clearer. I constantly tell my students that physics is all about perspective. Newton's 3rd Law (loosely translated into the Bowie version) states: You cannot push without being pushed. Basically, life will push back just as hard as you push. I think I'll take a another piece of advice, this one given recently by one of my professors: "sometimes its best just to put a period and let the question be answered".

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