Unexpected Events – Part 1

by Terry Plotkin

We witness that life can pivot on unexpected events. Some examples: The World Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or, on a personal level, a diagnosis of cancer, a chance meeting of a future life partner, a car accident, or an employment opportunity that takes us to a new city and new friends. These things happen suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, and it changes the picture we thought we were looking at. Permanently.


The CIA did not foresee the fall of the Berlin Wall even though they studied the situation constantly. No one thought Japan was crazy enough to attack Pearl Harbor. I saw an exhibit once of the shapes of people dug up from the ancient volcanic eruption in Pompeii. They had excavated the fossil remains of people going about their daily business: eating, sleeping, lounging on the patio, cooking in the kitchen. When disaster struck, they died on the spot. I doubt anyone was contemplating their imminent demise at the moment the top of the mountain blew off. Most likely, they were doing what people are doing right now: going about their daily business, immersed in the minutia of life.


Sudden change is inevitable, but somehow we push it aside and expect history to unfold more or less linearly. Yet, the evidence shows that, at times, life lurches in a new direction.  To function, we must cope with the shock that comes with that and meet the future as it presents itself.


The world today seems ripe with the possibility of jarring events that could derail our plans, subvert our dreams, that go against our economic models, that our leading intellects do not see coming, and that our leaders are too blind or loathe to confront. We are akin to being on a rollercoaster wearing a blindfold, except this ride has not been inspected for safety; no one knows what direction it is heading, or where it will end.


Allow me to spin a few scenarios.


The Islamic State came out of nowhere (again unexpectedly), and with its stunning advances has made war-weary Americans, and a tragic President, to get dragged back into a war that anyone with any sense wants out of. Bombing from the sky is the most we want to do for now. It seems no country wants to fight them head-on, even those that are directly threatened. The Islamic State has one big advantage over all its enemies: They don’t care if they die, and they don’t care if you die either. The world leaders are yet again trying to contain a threat that they call terrorism. But no one asks why so many people opt for organizations like this, why they are growing in popularity, and how is it that their weapons were made and paid for by the United States? Is it possible that the more they are bombed the more they hate and the more they resort to desperate violence? No one knows how to stop it; no one knows where it will end; no one expects there to be victory or defeat. The limited goal is to contain and diminish it like attacking a recurrent tumor with another dose of chemotherapy. However, many things in life don’t go according to plan. The cancer might grow out of control.


The Pope, a man who seems to understand the human condition as well as anyone, ponders whether WW3 has already begun. It seems preposterous at first glance to think that a band of ruthless, yet lightly armed, zealots can trigger a World War.  But discontented people with religious fervor are all over the world. Many of the countries they live in are far from stable. Some are ruled by tyrants without the support of their people. Some of these countries are drenched in oil and fabulously wealthy. Some have huge arsenals, including nuclear. How quickly will the picture change if Saudi Arabia were to be taken over by an Islamic State type group? Not so far-fetched a possibility when you consider that Saudi Arabia is ruled by a small clique hated by many in the Arab world. How would the West respond to a major disruption in the world’s oil supply being controlled by a terrorist band armed with a vast cache of American weapons? Then there is Pakistan, which is stuck in a constant state of turmoil, a Taliban insurgency, and, yes, a stash of nuclear missiles. What do you suppose a terrorist group, bent on revenge and unafraid to die, would do if they controlled those weapons? These types of real threats can come on suddenly while we, as is our way, are distracted by over-hyped, short-term media events. It is quite possible that we could soon be tossed into a raging sea, in over our heads, out of sight from shore, without a life jacket. What if the Pope is right?


End of Part 1.


10,000 things

by Terry Plotkin

I can’t help but feel shame for some things I’ve done and haven’t done. Things that are close to me and things that are far away, things that belong to my family, my tribe, my community, my country, my people, my race. I feel shame for things I can control and things I cannot, for people I know and those I have never met. For meager contributions, sins that run deep, stupidity anchoring us in mud, cold wars, Sharia Law, Civil wars, meat eaters, self-righteous vegetarians, homophobia, white people, missionaries, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus too, trivial lives, shabby reforms, intolerance, and too much tolerance, arrogance morphing into hubris, weakness, abuse of animals, poisons on plants, nuclear weapons and waste that never goes away, incivility, obesity, genocide, ignorance of our karma and our place in the universe, agent orange, slavery, bullying, sexism, pollution, elitism and the sense of entitlement that goes with it, ingratitude, Arabs, Israelis, imperialism, Russians, Americans, British, French and yes the Germans, Chinese, Japanese, old Spain, plastic everything, consumerism, materialism, bankruptcy, southerners, jails and who is in them, leftist, evangelists, so-called conservatives, Republicans for sure but Democrats too, and the 10,000 things.

You’d think I, we, all would at least develop a little humility.

The day of the Cow – Part 2

by Terry Plotkin

The afternoon festivities were about to begin. With the elder residents assembled and sipping their milk shakes, the announcement was made; the cow has arrived. The cow turned out to be a calf, a very unhappy one at that. Walking from the entrance of the building to the courtyard meant crossing the shiny floor, something a cow’s hoof is not engineered for. She slipped, flopping to the floor 3 times while trying to get to the courtyard, even as the owner dragged the resisting cow along, pulling its harness. The anticipation of the elder crowd changed to an audible sigh of compassion.  Thankfully, everyone’s discomfort, most of all the calf’s, was calmed when the animal got to a patch of grass and was put in a cage. The old people just sat there and watched, and we got up to leave.


A few days later, I found myself at a friend’s party held on his small farm with all manner of growing crops and a pen full of goats. The goats were as curious about us as we were about them. They climbed on all the available stumps to get a better view. Then, out of the little goat house, a young male sticks out its head, looks right at us, and let’s go a long, loud BAAAAH that drowned out all the other animals and people sounds. He seemingly was yelling at us and kept on with his audio assault. I had no clue as to his fury until the owner told me he was mad because he had just been weaned. Ohhhhh, that explained everything. My friend said he was “going to college in the fall” and would be in the freezer by October. I can’t imagine what else the goat might have said and done that evening if he had been privy to that information.


The next day we went to the local, small, town fair and wandered into the barn where the cows were being kept, waiting for their moment to be judged. They were all tied to a railing that gave each of them enough tether to either stand up or lay down and no more. That was how they were spending their day. None of them were complaining though except for one young cow who’s wailing MOOOOO echoed through the barn and would not cease. My friend went over to the young boy who was sitting next to the bellowing animal and asked him why the cow was so distraught. The boy said that she was upset because she had a companion back home whom she likes to spend her time with and she missed him. He said that her friend, who did not make the trip to the fair and was back in the barn at home, was carrying on in the same way.


These animal stories I witnessed over the course of 4 days are all linked in my mind. All 3 animals were obviously sentient beings with complicated feelings and emotions, and they knew how to express them. Fear, reluctance, anger, betrayal, loneliness, friendliness, and loyalty were all on display. I believe the owners of these animals had real affection for those they were caring for. I find no fault with any of them. I am not the one who raises them, and I know it is a tough business. The teenage girl and her father who brought the calf into the elder residence were donating their time as an act of kindness to the people there. The same is true for the farmer who brought his cows to the fair. And the goat farmer I know to be a kind and generous man.


These animals have it very good compared to the animals raised in giant, overcrowded, confined spaces where they live, suffer, and die in horrible conditions in the name of efficiency and profit. Treating animals as if they are nothing more than a resource to be exploited cannot be considered humane or in any way honors their true nature. It also diminishes ourselves. Suffice it to say, we can do way better.


The day of the cow. Part 1

by Terry Plotkin

It was a big event at the assisted living home where my mother lives. The afternoon entertainment was a cow coming to visit. Milk shakes to be served as refreshments. It was all the buzz during lunch when we arrived, as was our entrance into the dining room. In a place filled with elderly women (and very few men) our entrance caused most everyone to stop eating and take a long look. A couple in their 50s must seem an anomaly to them.


We shuffled (most residents use walkers) to the enclosed courtyard waiting for the cow to make its appearance. The whole thing seemed surreal. There is something alien about bringing a farm animal into the middle of a manicured courtyard so old people can gawk at it, like going to a cheesy zoo. As the crowd gathered, my mother was anxious to introduce us to her peers, as if to show off what she had reared. I asked one woman if she was staying for the cow and she gave a firm, “No”. She said she and her late husband had started a dairy farm and at one time had 75 cows. When they started the farm they knew nothing about dairy farming, and they built it up. She had helped birth and milk them. She had seen enough of cows. Looking at her frail form standing stooped over her walker, I never would have guessed she once strut around a barn caring for a dairy herd.  Another fragile, but sharp thinking woman, stopped to chat, and said she and her husband had a chicken farm. They raised 7000 birds at a time! When the chickens got to old to lay she said they went to the “pot”. Her job was to make food out of the chickens and sell eggs at the farm stand. She didn’t go into the coop though. The business was a lot of work, and she was glad to be done with it. No more farm animals for her. She wasn’t staying for the cow.  Who knew? Before she spoke I just saw a kind faced, unsteady woman bent with age.  Next, a group of elderly people came in and sat near the walls in a row. No one talked to them, and they did not talk to each other. They sat there with vacant stares on their faces, victims of Alzheimer’s. It was hard to visualize anything about what their lives once were.  While we waited for the cow, which was now running a bit late, we drank our milk shakes, and another friend of my mother’s sat down to converse with us. It turns out she and her husband had a huge garden that was once the talk of her neighborhood, and had been on many an adventure including riding a mule down the Grand Canyon. She was 97 years old and very present. All of these women’s husbands had died sometime back. They were, at one time, strong, vital, accomplished people, yet now it is so easy to just see them as old.  Also, it is tempting to overlook the sobering fact that we will likely share their fate. Tis our folly.