07 September 2006

Sentimental shorts

Goodbye, Sebastian. A few days ago, our foster-cat Sebastian developed alarming symptoms, requiring a visit to the night clinic. The next day he seemed to improve, but by evening the same symptoms had come back. Judy and Eliot took him back to the night clinic, where they ultimately asked the staff to euthanize him. He came home again in a cute cardboard coffin, on which Eliot had drawn a cross and written Sebastian's name in large letters. He was buried in our front yard, just under his favorite observation window. Eliot conducted the burial in the presence of our retired cat Pounce (about 17 years old) and the black cat from across the street.

When Sebastian, a Siamese, first came to us a little over three years ago, he was all yowl all the time. In those three years, he had calmed down a lot, to the point where he could stay in our bedroom all night without my knowing it. (I sometimes DID know it, but not because of his noise.) His sudden absence from our lives is deafening. The other day somebody's dog yipped and for a few seconds I thought it was Sebastian.

Eliot drew the napkin picture while we were in a restaurant, the day after Sebastian died. The details of the story are his to tell, not mine; I'm just reporting the feelings that come to me when I look at the sketch: awareness of deep compassion and kindness, gratitude, and much that cannot be put into words.

On my eastbound Atlanta-Moscow route, on the way to Elektrostal (where this is being written), the onboard TV monitors were delivering the usual mix of what passes for entertainment on television. The series came to an end, replaced by the real-time map and flight parameter display that I find much more interesting. With a start, I realized that we were about to cross Norway's coastline right over Bergen. At no extra cost, I was being given a visit to the flight space of my homeland!

Although when the tour started everything was covered by clouds, by the time we passed north of Oslo, the ground was bathed in glorious sunlight. It was not the first time I had occasion to ask myself why I, a self-proclaimed global citizen, could feel such emotions 10 000 meters above a very particular piece of ground.

A spiritual GPS? One of the odder stories covered by ABC News in its segment of the inflight television entertainment was a new cellphone system that tells the holder of the master cellphone where the other units in the family group are located, enabling a parent to know where the children are. With the help of a computer program, their whole itinerary can be tracked. Not having had this technology, I can't count the times when Luke or Eliot phoned us from some point on their way home, and we said with relief, "Oh, thanks so much for calling. We were beginning to think you were in a ditch somewhere." If we'd had this technology, we could have had the reassuring capacity to know exactly which ditch. Instead we had to rely on trust, which is both cheaper and far more empowering, even if it seems as if more risk is involved.

Thinking about all this on the airplane, I imagined my heart as a sort of spiritual GPS. In spatial terms, I'm likely to spend all my mortal days on the same planet, and everything else is a matter of detail. However, wouldn't it be nice to know whether I'm heading in a successful direction, and what spiritual costs and benefits that direction holds, and whether this other very tempting direction is really all that bad? The GPS could tell me, "Detour ahead, but it's okay, your destination is still within reach," or "Danger: don't believe this flattery you're hearing, sweet as it is," or "Would you make that choice if someone else were watching?"

I have sometimes made a decision from sheer idealism that ended up costing me more than I'd ever counted on. However, when I think about choosing between that idealism and a more cautious approach to life, I can't feel too much regret about the choices I made. On the other hand, when I've consciously chosen a wrong direction, I generally knew it. It wasn't the absence of a spiritual GPS that did me in, it was me overriding my own heart.

Righteous links: Martin Marty recently published a Sightings newsletter, "Heeding Edward O. Wilson," in which he cites Wilson's recent essay in The New Republic entitled "A scientist's plea for Christian environmentalism." (Marty's essay is not yet in the Sightings archive but soon will be.) See Karen Street's A Musing Environment for a Quaker comment on Wilson's letter.

Another Derek Lamson video—performing "Deep Green Koolaid Blues" at Reedwood Friends—is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ER2diF5VGCo

Here's a link I've given before that, in light of my current visit, seems important enough to repeat: Stephen Cohen's "The New American Cold War." Since the most negative possible interpretations of Russian behavior are rapidly becoming conventional wisdom, I consider Cohen's article one of this year's most important essays. (In case you think I'm becoming naive and sentimental about Russian politics, I'll add another link to my list of recommended reading.)

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