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Lifetime Of Changes

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, July 20, 2010

As you might imagine here at the Pundit, we are set up with all kinds of feeds and subscriptions to keep us abreast of as much as possible within our sphere of professional interest.

Most of it, of course, is exactly what we expected but, every once in awhile, something serendipitous crosses our screen.

One of the key words, or tags, we search for is “farmer,” and we receive many inputs every day. Recently, however, a feed sent us a piece under farmer and it turned out to have nothing to do with farmers or farming; it was the man’s name, John Farmer, Jr., to be exact.

Turns out that he is the Dean of the Rutgers School of Law and a former Attorney General for the State of New Jersey — in fact, for 90 minutes on January 8, 2002, he served as Acting Governor of New Jersey. He also served as Senior Counsel to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly known as the 9/11 Commission, which was chaired by former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean. John Farmer, Jr. also wrote a book titled The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11.

He recently wrote a piece for the Star-Ledger (where his father is editorial page editor), titled Change, Sadly, is Inevitable. It is a haunting piece that ties together the geologic change that is Yellowstone with the changes human beings experience in a lifetime.

Many of us are traveling with our families this summer, and we thought the piece especially meaningful as you head off or return from such a journey. Read the whole piece but here is an excerpt:

Most of us lead several lives in the span of our years, each demarcated by what we’ve lost. There is the early life with our parents and grandparents, the life alone before marriage, the life with our spouses and, if we’re lucky, our children, the diminishing life after our loved ones have departed. Each of these lives is complete, with days full of sun and peace, sufficient for its time, lasting just long enough for us to believe it won’t end.

They shouldn’t end, you think, the days of Poppy reading the Sunday Daily News in the kitchen in his undershirt, of your sisters riding their bikes, of the magic light in your wife’s eyes, of sunlit ball fields, of the joy of your horses running after a storm and your dog chasing waves in the shore’s salt breeze. They shouldn’t end. They last just long enough to create the illusion of permanence. Just long enough to break your heart.

For they do end, swept away in a natural disaster or a terrorist attack or in more mundane ways, in car accidents or broken relationships or illnesses or the slow death of a child or the sudden demise of a spouse or in the hoped-for long twilight of a parent’s life. You can plan for catastrophe, you can map every contingency, but the history of our planet teaches that disasters will overwhelm your every effort.

Somehow this reality doesn’t defeat us. We assimilate the tragedies that cause our lives to change forever. We move on. We always have.

We create sustaining myths of lost continents and gardens of paradise, we write psalms of exile and longing. We dance ritually the powers of nature, paint God at the center of the whirlwind, raise cathedrals of stillness to the sky.

We send rockets to the moon and mars, space probes beyond even our own sun’s reach.

We aspire, and, in our effort, we send up our prayers.

You’re descending in turbulence to Newark. Amid the shaking and rattling, you see the familiar lights of the Manhattan skyline, with the unfilled darkness where the World Trade Center once stood.

You think of a child, one among many, mortally ill at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. After eight years there is, you’ve been told, no hope.

Someday the foundations of your world will be swept away utterly. What can you do?

You can do what you always do.

You can survive, diminished and saddened, but professing to the end your unrequited love for this misbegotten, miraculous world.

Somewhere in the night a child is dying. Five miles away a plane lands safely in high winds.

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