New Vistas

    Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 15: Dockside Chatter

    Issue 157

    As Melody’s dad was delivering the tractor to his son, I wandered over to the trout pond. Some of the senior citizens from Rapid City were fishing on the pier. They sat quietly with their eyes fixed on the spot where their lines hit the water. The slightest ripple would cause them to yank their pole, hoping to snag a trout.

    “Any luck today?” I asked.

    “SHUSHSHSHSHSH!” they responded; “you’ll scare the fish.”

    I didn’t feel particularly welcome there, so I wandered over to the beach where three seniors were seated on lawn chairs. There was a lot of discussion and laughter. They had lines in the water but didn’t seem to be paying too much attention. During the course of the greetings, I learned that Terry, the short guy with the Australian accent, was a retired commercial airline pilot, the heavy woman named Olive was once an insurance adjuster, and Paul, the guy with the goatee and long hair, was a professor emeritus of physics.

    After they learned who I was, they handed me a shot from a bottle of single malt stashed in a handbag and resumed their dialog. I was beginning to understand their fascination with fishing.

    Olive: “So why doesn’t Lucas show up to these outings anymore? I know he’s not sick.”

    Terry: “You can’t be sure of that, love; maybe he’s not letting on.

    O: “Well, that may be true, but I’m worried he’s becoming a curmudgeon. He always finds excuses to stay at the home and sit on the porch or watch TV.”

    T: “Maybe it’s S.A.D.”

    O: “Sad?”

    T: “No…well, yes. I call it Self-Arrest Disease.”

    O: “What?”

    T: “Well mate, he’s decided that he’s too old, too painful, and too tired to be active anymore, so he’s placed himself under house arrest.”

    O: “I think he’s scared to leave the home. I think fear’s got a grip on him.”

    Paul: “Fear is a disease. It makes strong people weak, and weak people demented. A life controlled by fear is a life without power or joy.”

    O: “Who in their right mind would choose that when seniors around the world are hiking mountains, sailing seas, writing books, and volunteering to improve the lives of others?”

    P: “People who are scared.”

    T: “Of what?”

    P: “They are scared of the unknown.”

    T: “What are you talking about, mate?”

    P: “They’re afraid of dying, Terry; they don’t know what’s on the other side and that fear is crippling them.”

    T: “Most people are afraid of dying, but they don’t have S.A.D.”

    O: “True, some people have strong religious beliefs that comfort them.”

    T: “My father was a faithful evangelical all of his life, yet he expressed doubts before he died. He said that without empirical evidence, no religion can lay claim to the absolute truth.”

    O: “Perhaps all spokes lead to the same hub?”

    T: “Or perhaps they just lead down the garden path.”

    P: “That’s why some take refuge in science. If Einstein is to be believed, all matter is a manifestation of energy. If all matter is energy, then everything in the universe – the entire quantum field – constitutes the divine matrix or God. Some say that death is nothing more than matter returning to energy, just as every ice cube goes back to being water. Nothing is destroyed or lost, it just changes form.”



    O: “Who knows, it all seems like conjecture to me. I don’t think we have any more understanding of the absolute truth than my dog understands personal hygiene.”

    T: “Hah! That’s funny. Did you know that the ancient Egyptians deified dogs as well as cats?”

    P: “But they worshiped the sun. I always thought that was a ridiculous idea, like worshiping trees or rocks. But if you see the sun as a visual representation of the quantum energy field, it makes sense.”

    O: “What about people who don’t understand any of that?”

    P: “They are the ones who are most afraid, and what they fear is being relegated to nonexistence for their sins.”

    O: “Come on, everyone makes mistakes, usually in ignorance. Now that we are older and know better, we’re ashamed. Back then, those decisions seemed advantageous – even if we knew it was selfish.”

    P: “Moral behavior is part of the maturing process, but it doesn’t ameliorate the fear of divine retribution.”

    O: “God, or the ‘divine matrix’ as you call it, made us the way we are with all our shortcomings, Paul. He shouldn’t get too upset if we act accordingly. Are you going to beat your dog because it killed a rabbit? If a dog acts like a dog, it can be argued that the dog’s creator is responsible for its actions.”

    T: “The behavior of humans is pretty consistent in every era or culture, so if the entire species is faulty, the responsibility falls on the creator.”

    P: “Or the programmer.”

    O: “What?”

    P: “Maybe culture is responsible for programming behavior. Lots of people blame their parents, religion, or society at large for their failures.”

    T: “The counterargument is that because humans can distinguish between right and wrong, they are responsible for their actions, regardless of their past.”

    P: “The problem is that the concept of right and wrong is culturally determined. The Plains Indians taught their young warriors to steal horses as a mark of bravery, but the white man hung horse thieves. Many medieval Europeans thought the Inquisition was moral, but their descendants repudiated it. The Old Testament rationalizes revenge as the will of God, the New Testament tells us to turn the other cheek. The 9/11 hijackers are reviled by the Western world, but many in the Muslim community believe they took a direct flight to heaven.”

    O: Too bad they didn’t fly solo.

    T: Hah, right!

    O: “Maybe we should let our conscience direct our behavior.”

    P: “Some people don’t seem to have a conscience, or they’ve buried it – most of them are in jail or in politics. Others argue that conscience is not inborn, but rather a social construct indoctrinated into people as children. That was probably true of the 9/11 hijackers. They made the ultimate sacrifice believing they were doing the will of God. How many people are that dedicated to their belief system? Should they be rewarded or punished?”

    T: “Are you trying to tell me that there is no retribution for evil? Don’t you believe in justice?”

    P: “Both sides in every war believe the other side is evil. Only the victor’s definition prevails. Is that just? Justice doesn’t seem to play a part in nature, so why should it play a role in the cosmic scheme of things?”

    T: “Eastern religions argue that Karma delivers justice.”

    O: “Doesn’t always seem that way.”

    T: “Maybe everyone should just stick to the Golden Rule.”

    P: “That would make for heaven on earth, so long as no one violates it. But that seems inconceivable given human nature. So long as there are bullies in the schoolyard, there’ll be tyranny on Earth. Those Utopian dreams of a workers’ paradise always turn into hell on Earth as soon as a bully like Stalin hijacks the movement. The more political power is centralized, the easier it is for bullies to take over.”

    T: “Perhaps the problem is centralized power.”

    P: “It’s not always the route to tyranny, but tyranny always starts by centralizing power.”

    O: “I have a cousin, Antoine, who was a bully not only in the schoolyard, but with his family too. None of them will have anything to do with him now. He got remarried and it irks me that he seems happy.”

    T: “He’s probably come to terms with his past.”

    O: “If he’s come to terms with it, he must believe that some higher power has absolved him.”

    P: “Not necessarily. Perhaps he’s learned to forgive himself. What else can he do? The past is the past, no one can change it. What would you have him do, become an addict or homeless? That’s what happens to people who can’t forgive themselves.”

    T: “Or they develop neuroses and disease.”

    O: “Still, I don’t know how people like Antoine can live with themselves.”

    P: “Maybe they just choose to place their focus elsewhere. If you focus on the scenery while driving, you’re headed for disaster, but if you focus on the road, you’ll get home safely. Life’s like that, it takes you where you place your focus.”

    T: “Flying is like that too. They call it ‘target fixation.’ If you focus on what you fear, that’s where you’re headed.”

    P: “Right, if you focus on negative things like your past or your fears, they’ll overcome you. The hypochondriac always gets sick. The timid always lose. But if you focus on positive things: improving other’s lives, entertaining friends, appreciating the beauty of nature, creating art, intellectual pursuits, enjoying the comforts of the western world – your senior years will be satisfying.”

    O: “I’m not so sure the comforts of the Western world will last much longer the way things are going.”

    T: “No one knows how things will go, Olive; besides, it’s out of your control. Why waste a dwindling resource like your life’s energy on things you can’t control? Fatalism leads to neurosis and disease.”

    O: “Still, I‘m scared for my children and grandchildren.”

    T: “They will experience what they experience whether you are scared or not. You have no power over that. Don’t be remembered as that paranoid granny!”

    O: “No, I don’t want that.”

    P: “Let me play the devil’s advocate and advance a worst-case scenario. Imagine that the world is the Titanic just after hitting the iceberg. Remember that the band continued to play until the ship went down?”

    O: “Sure.”

    P: “OK, as a passenger, you have only two choices: you can go down screaming and scrambling in fear, or you can enjoy the music for as long as possible.”

    O: “You’re saying that the world is like the Titanic?”

    T: “With one big exception – nobody gets off this liner alive. So instead of panicking, we should savor the music.”

    O: “Sounds like you want me to wear rose-colored glasses?”

    P: “It’s your choice to see the world through rose-colored glasses or dark ones, Olive. That choice determines your world view, which determines your attitude towards life, which determines your quality of life.”

    T: “That reminds me of something Shakespeare wrote, uhmm……………’There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.’”

    P: “Exactly!”

    O: “Well, I’m out of Scotch.”

    T: “That’s bad, but I’ve got more.”

    O: “That’s good.”

    P: “Must be karma.”

    O: “We have a lot for which to be grateful.”

    T: “If you’re not grateful, you’re not looking around enough, mate.”

    I found myself wondering if these entertaining folks had spent time at the Bhagwan’s camp.


    Previous installments in this series appeared in Issues 143, 144145146147148149.150, 151, 152, 153154155 and 156 – Ed.]

    Header image courtesy of Nyman.

    3 comments on “Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 15: Dockside Chatter”

    1. Very insightful and uplifting…
      … I fear I was retired too early without the funds I’d planned, perhaps after reading this it’s just S.A.D?
      Just S.A.D, that’s not a good thing to muse upon.
      … I’ll try to listen to the band more until my ship goes down 🙂

      1. An update…
        I found myself reading this instalment first, there must have been a reason this one caught my eye but it’s lost to me now, hence making the comment above.

        After a while I decided to go back to the first instalment and now find myself back to where I started…
        … really didn’t expect this to make such an deep impression on me as it’s someone else’s journey…
        … and there’s still more to come.

    2. As in flying, target fixation is a real problem in motorcycling.

      If you fixate on the hazard, you’re likely to hit it. Don’t look at the hazard, but be aware of it and look for a way around it.

      An appropriate metaphor for life, I think.

      There’s been a lot of wisdom in your Sturgis Pilgrimage stories B.J. I’m really enjoying them.

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