The Official Start of Summer (for me)

I am always amazed at the abrupt way Summertime Traffic suddenly starts and ends. I took off last Friday myself, but Thursday morning and afternoon were “normal” with the usual slow-spots where it always takes a cycle or two to get through certain traffic lights and where people slowly creep up at about 1-MPH like it is a game to see if they can avoid coming to a full stop (I hate that – just drive up and stop goddamnit – it is so much easier to sit at a full stop than to creep forward). On Monday afternoon however, the traffic had simply vanished. At places where it always takes at least 2 light-cycles to get through an intersection I sailed through at-speed clean-and-green all the way. There couldn’t have been more than about 25% of the normal traffic volume on the road at high rush-hour. I guess this means that the local schools are out.

I can never understand why there is such an enormous difference between “normal” and “summertime” traffic. I get that with school buses off the roads there are no more unexpected and random stops in the middle of the rush-hour traffic-flow, and that commuting teachers and mommy-taxies are also gone, but it just doesn’t seem as though that can fully explain the scale of the change. I also understand that many people wait to take vacations until their kids are out of school, but I wouldn’t think that this would create the seemingly instantaneous nature of the shift. Not everyone can rush off to take their 2-weeks on the very first day that Johnnie is out of school.

It’s not that I am complaining, mind you. Summertime traffic is one of the nicest things about summer and a small compensation for the horrid summer weather with its oppressive heat and humidity when you can’t walk 10-yards outdoors without breaking into rivers of sweat. I would love to have summertime traffic all year, although then I’d probably find something else to complain about. I just don’t understand this light-switch-effect where all of these hundreds of cars are here one day and just gone the next. Ah well, whatever the scientific explanation is I plan to enjoy it while I can until that day in early September when on a specific predictable morning we will get hit by “Normal” again like a baseball bat in the face.

Why the JW Pitch Doesn’t Work On Me

We live “out in the country” in SE Pennsylvania. Although we are not “religious”, many people around us are. That’s fine – I respect everyone’s right to believe whatever they want to believe. Among the plethora of Christian churches in the area there is a large and prosperous-looking Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses about a mile away. These folks are known for their proselytizing and we get a visit from someone of this group at our house once or maybe twice a year. This too is fine. I also respect that these JW folks in particular are so deeply committed to what they believe that they will risk walking up cold and talking to perfect strangers about it. Not many have the guts to do that about anything.

I was sitting on my deck Sunday afternoon relaxing and basking in the warm, beautiful weather when a strange car pulled rather hesitantly into our driveway and then drove around to the front of the house. I got up to greet whoever this was and to see what they wanted because it was very unlikely to be anyone I know (I literally have no friends in this world). It turned out that it was a carload of little-old-ladies from the JW come for what amounts to their annual visit. As is my habit in these cases I listen to the spiel, smile and try to be both polite but also non-committal so as not to get their hopes up or provide any false impression of true interest. I usually accept their handouts of “The Watchtower” and “Awake”, and sometimes I even leaf through them briefly later on, but despite my college background in philosophy, I don’t engage these missionaries in existential dialectic and the whole encounter is over in about 5-minutes.

After having had these engagements regularly for about 25-years I do have an observation though. I have noticed that the sales pitch of the JW is very consistent. I am sure that they are carefully trained to do this work in exactly this way, probably because it has proven itself over time to be such a successful formula. The routine always goes something like this;

  1.  Haven’t you ever wondered why it is that life is so awful? Whenever you turn on the TV there is nothing but war and terrorism and riots and pandemic diseases and suffering and pain and injustice. Haven’t you ever wondered why your own life is so difficult and full of hurt even when you don’t deserve it? Haven’t you ever wondered why God permits all these horrible, ugly things in the world and if maybe there might be a “Better Place”?
  2. There is “An Answer” to all of these fears and concerns and questions we all have that will explain everything, and there is in fact a “Better Place” that is very real and very near and it is called “The Kingdom of God”.
  3. If you are suffering from all of these fears and worries, then I’ve got yer “Answers” right here in The Bible and all you have to do is Believe as we do and you too can be secure in the future that God will soon visit upon us.

As I have said – I respect True Believers of any stripe but I cannot share their faith because no matter how deeply held, passion can never be accepted as a substitute for veracity. I was thinking about this latest interaction later on while thumbing through The Watchtower with its apocalyptic illustrations. Those comic-book-like pictures reminded me very much of the posters in the video-game store advertising the latest Mortal Kombat teenage shoot-em-up game – ironic, since I’m sure that the JW folks would consider those things completely evil in spite of the eerie similarities to their own publication. The only real difference is that the game is accepted by everyone as just a fantasy, but the JW folks actually believe in an authentic and imminent real-life apocalypse. Anyway, I was wondering why it was that this JW sales pitch had no appeal to me when it was apparently so compelling to so many others.

My conclusion is that I just cannot buy into the very first premise of the JW presentation. You see, I don’t believe that life is awful, at least mine certainly isn’t. I have a beautiful house, I have a great job, I have all the money and possessions that I need (if not desire), I am in good health (for someone my age) and I have had a strong and loving marriage for over 30-years. I suppose that the JW missionary could challenge me (should we ever actually enter a debate) and ask if there isn’t anything that is less-than ideal in my life. Well, I suppose that if I stretched I might find something to whine about, but the fact is that even if The Kingdom of God that they are peddling is indeed “Perfect”, I’m not sure that it would be. You see, to be truly happy we humans need things that are imperfect so that we can work to make them better. If everything were already as good as it could possibly be, then that would be terribly boring. I mean, if it weren’t for heathens like me in need of conversion, what would these poor JW missionaries do with themselves? At least I can provide them with the thrill and excitement of walking up to a stranger and Testifying to their faith in God – so, you’re welcome; glad to be of service.

I understand that there are plenty of folks out there who are suffering – many through no fault of their own. That’s too bad. Although I don’t want to be crass about it, even the suffering of others makes me appreciate just how good that I have it by comparison. Be it “luck” or the grace-of-God I am very, very thankful for my life and there is nothing of significance that I regret or that I would alter; past or present. I also know that somewhere people are in distress and that tomorrow in a moment of disaster I could well be one of them. In spite of this risk however, I find the world-at-large to be a beautiful and glorious place. The blue of the sky is wonderful, the sound of the birds and the wind in the trees is wonderful and the feel of the warm sun on my skin is wonderful. And by the way – all of these things will remain just as wonderfully beautiful as they are today even if I lose everything else that I have in some catastrophic instant tomorrow. The message of the JW (and Christianity in general) is that with faith there is “Hope for a Better Place” and for the relief of present worldly pain, but I am not in any pain. If I were to be told that the here-and-now is all that there would be for all of eternity – I’d be perfectly fine with that. I guess that this is why no religion has ever held a strong appeal to me – I am just too happy and content and I don’t have enough self-pity in me to crave “A Better Place”.

The Philosophy of the Un-Social

I maintain a private personal diary-blog in addition to this “public” blog, and today that private blog is now officially 3-years-old. Man, it seems like just yesterday that I started that thing. The interesting part is that although I write privately there probably 5-days-a-week, I have really fallen away from writing in this public one. The reason is that I honestly don’t care if anyone else reads my thoughts and I find that I have little to say that I think is interesting enough to even try to share. Hmmm – how very, very un-social of me.

Speaking of social, I notice that as usual the summer college-student workers that I have reporting to me spend all of their time with their faces buried in their phones whenever there is a moment that they are not obligated to be doing something else. I presume that they are text-chatting with their friends, although occasionally they try to send me a message too. If we had had these smart-phones when I was in high-school and college I rather doubt that it would have made a difference in my life – other than to emphasize how bizarrely different I was from everyone else (as though the jacket-and-tie I wore every day in high-school didn’t already do that). I do suspect though that the way that I use this new-fangled tech is considered extremely rude by the plugged-in generation. If I am busy, or in the bathroom, or will soon see the folks anyway, or just plain not-in-the-mood, I simply ignore the goddamn piece of crap-shit technology. I say, let the fucking thing chirp and jingle because I am doing something else and my time is important. I get the impression though that the “kids” are absolutely horrified at this behavior of mine. To them a ringing phone is the ultimate imperative because – you know – it might be serious (like maybe Steve just asked Judy to go to lunch with him, or something).

Whatever. My philosophy is that my time and attention is not a public resource freely available to any-old yutz who happens to have a phone and my number. My time is mine and I will hand it out when and where and to a purpose and to a person that I choose to give it to and I will not apologize to anyone if they don’t happen to make the cut.