What we do while we are alive
Fabulous Bob just got back from a brief spell in Western Connecticut, where he reports seeing firewood for sale at $400 a cord.
“Not sure of the quality,” he said, “but it sure is a great way to prevent us from bringing firewood into Maine.
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Talking of strict preventative measures, I have heard from two separate sources that Pen Bay Medical Center is adopting severe tactics in the case of its employees who smoke.
According to these independent sources, all staff who want to be covered under the hospital’s health insurance plan are now asked to take a test to see if they have any tobacco in their system. Those who test positive for the dread weed can still obtain the insurance, but at a cost of about $100 more per month than those who test pure.
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For the first night in a long time I was persuaded to sleep somewhere other than on top of the south tower at the grain silo complex on Mechanic Street. I woke up Sunday morning to the sound of some boat poking around in the fog off Marshall Point, and to the crashing of the waves only a few feet below my window.
Inspecting the shore, I found that it was partly covered in what seemed to be orange maple leaves. This seemed unlikely, as the predominant type of tree down there is something that does not cease from being green. And indeed the shore covered with leaves proved to be a shore covered with some sort of pumpkin-colored seaweed.
Is the vegetation of the ocean also turning color, this time of year? I think we should be told, for if it is then the chamber of commerce could begin marketing underwater fall foliage tours, in which bus loads of senior citizens from other states can be fitted with scuba gear and sent off under the surface of the water to inspect the changing colors down there.
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Looking down from the east tower to the ground below, I can see a footpath or trail along the shore leading all the way from Newty Chambers’ house to the doors of the Pearl Restaurant.
It was many years ago, I think, that some brave soul in an official position with the city took a pot of blue paint and painted a blue stripe all along the city shoreline, in the hope of persuading us that Rockland had a harbor walking trail. If I remember aright, this blue line was pretty well laughed at, and the painter was thought of as some pathetic dreamer who foolishly hoped to conjure a real trail out of thin air by mere force of imagination.
Today, thanks to the people who built the place once occupied by Fisher’s snowplow factory and who built the boardwalk, and thanks to people in official positions who eventually caught on to the idea, we now do have a Rockland harbor trail, at least in the South End.
In other words, the blue-line dreamer turned out to be a visionary, whose painted idea came to be. Let us take encouragement from this fact. For example, I will be painting little bags of gold on the concrete at the foot of the west tower, in the full expectation that one day I will find real bags there.
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In his book “The New Queen of Heaven,” novelist Gregory McGuire says “Love as a policy is stronger than love as an emotion.” He adds that, unfortunately, only the religious can afford to have love as a policy. The rest of us, he says, are stuck with love as an emotion.
I think he is presenting an idea to see what it looks like, and rather underselling it I think, because it is an important human insight. In my opinion, many things are presented to us today as effects of the heart or mind which really ought to be treated as effects of direct action, or “policy” in the novelists’ phrase.
Principally among such things so badly conceived of are a handful of religious notions, such as belief and (yes) love. Religious belief is now being pitched as if it were a consequence of scientific investigation and rational conclusions. There are people who genuinely believe their notions about God can be proved by science, even if that science flies in the face of actual science. They have come up with special science.
Religious belief is obviously no such thing at all, but is rather a different kind of thing. But nobody will say so any more.
Likewise with love as a religious idea. People are being taught that love is a warm and fuzzy feeling they will experience when they toss a nickel onto the collection plate. The truth is that love is not primarily a feeling at all; love really only exists in the actions that one carries out. Anything we feel about that is only a secondary effect.
I think this confusion is why some religious people genuinely think they can justify harsh, severe and even horrid speech and actions, just so long as they have that warm (if rather abstract) feeling in their concrete hearts. They have got it entirely the wrong way around, as one so often finds is the case of shallow religious ideas. Our lives are not made up of a set of mental attitudes and abstract affirmations. Our lives are what we do while we are alive, and that is what counts.
If I can be forgiven for concentrating only on the two extremes, this is why it is commonplace to find people of all types, liberal and conservative, secular and religious, etc., who despite all the fine intellectual sentiments they profess to believe in are still, essentially, nasty little people.
They have found a way to justify anything they say or do by claiming they really have love in their hearts.
It is also why we all know some people who don’t have a complicated or sophisticated thought in their heads, who never pontificated on a creed or proudly claimed to live by some elegant code of conduct, yet who nevertheless have figured out that it is how we treat other humans that really matters. And it really matters.
David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.