So, it’s a beautiful day today in Marietta, Georgia. The morning was cool and lovely. I am starting to get a sense of an impending change of the season. To look around in my little world you would never know of the terrible flooding or fires that are going on in our country. Sometimes when I have nothing better to do I lie around and wonder whether it’s better to have too much water or not enough water. I don’t think there is an answer to this question. Nobody could live but a matter of days without water. And when there’s no rain everything gets dry and fires break out. Fires are dreadful. They kill and displace people and animals and leave ugly scars wherever they go. Too much water, on the other hand, is devastating. The flooding that is going on in Texas right now is beyond imagination. There’s so much displacement of people and destruction of property that the effect will last for years. The power of water can be devastating. I know that in the American Southwest certain rainstorms can cause flash flooding, walls of water crashing through canyons killing whatever or whoever happens to be in the way. I know a few years ago there was a terrible earthquake which triggered a tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed so much property around the world. Floods have had such an impact throughout history that some of the oldest myths known are flood myths. One occurs in the epic tale of Gilgamesh and another occurs in the Bible. Water represents the power of God to either destroy  or to give life.

Tragedies such as floods and fires bring out the best and worst in people. These are definitely  times for people to reach out and help their neighbors. We do it as individuals and collectively as a society. We need to do everything we can to support the relief efforts and help the unfortunate people who lost everything. There is also an opportunity for people to rush in and take advantage of their neighbors, say, by charging them $100 for a bottle of drinking water. Mike heard an economist interviewed on a radio show who thought that this was a good thing. This demonstrates that if you start with an ideology that lacks compassion (such as total freedom of the marketplace) you can justify anything.

So, as deadly as water can be, there can be no life without it. When the scientists send probes to Mars or other heavenly bodies searching for signs of life the first thing they look for is evidence that there is, was, or could have been water present. If water was present, the likelihood of life having been present in some form increases dramatically. So, water must be a good thing, but I suppose too much of any good thing can be a bad thing. (Some rich skinny woman once said that you can’t be too thin or too rich, but she was definitely wrong on both counts. It’s another example of an ideology carried too far.) And lack of water leads to terrible suffering. We have a mechanism in our brains that senses when we need to drink water. It senses the amount of water and concentration of electrolytes in our bodies, and sends a “drink water” message to our conscious minds whenever necessary. It also sends an “enough water” message to our minds when we are adequately hydrated. (Overhydration can cause seizures and death.) The sensation to drink is called thirst. We apply the term to other sorts of deficiencies, for example, thirst for knowledge. (James B. Nelson has written a very good book about alcoholism and titled it “Thirst: God and the Alcoholic Experience.” You might enjoy it.) Thirst is a powerful biological drive, and for good reason. Anyone whose throat has become so dry that it hurts will know what I am talking about.

Since I started to write this piece a terrible hurricane (Irma) hit the Caribbean Islands, and Florida. The destruction of life and property in some regions was horrific. It looks like another hurricane (Maria) is on the way. Metaphorically speaking, when it rains, it pours.

Speaking of water, I once heard Mike talking about going to a performance of a musical play called “Water, Water” when he was an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. He doesn’t recall any memorable tunes from “Water, Water”, but something about it stayed with him. The composer was Harry Partch, an interesting fellow who was a professor of music there at the time. Partch was an original thinker. He wanted to know why he had to use a musical scale based on an octave that was divided into 12 equally-spaced tones. He studied other musical systems, and eventually came up with an octave that was divided into 43 tones. Since there were no musical instruments in existence that were able to play these tones (he called them microtones) he invented some. Many of these were in use in the performance of “Water, Water” including one that was mounted on a bicycle. If you are interested you can go on-line and Google Harry Partch. There is an informative documentary on U-tube that will come up, and also pictures of his instruments. Many of them have been preserved and are maintained by the University of Washington in Seattle. If you are up that way maybe you could check them out.

I have often heard Mike use the expression “the highest goodness” in reference to something. Foot rubs and banana pudding are two examples (but not at the same time.) It turns out that he acquired this expression while attending that performance of “Water, Water.” One of the songs has the line “The highest goodness is water, water. Water, water, pure clean water. The highest goodness is water, water.” Or something close to that. Why that should have stuck in Mike’s mind is beyond me, but there you are. Life is both strange and fascinating.

I am so slow in getting this out, that we have had more tragedies in our world. A terrible earthquake has devastated the area around Mexico City. And hurricane Maria has hit Puerto Rico with unprecedented fury and destruction. Too much water, and way too much wind. Unbelievable. What are those poor people (and their pets) going to do? You can see where these ancient flood stories came from.

It is remarkable the many physical forms that water can assume. From tiny droplets to enormous waves; tiny ice crystals to giant glaciers. Snow, rain, hail, fog, crystal clear to opaque, colorless to white. Rock hard to soft as powder. Amazing stuff, and it has the wonderful capacity to take up material into itself. All kinds of salts can dissolve in water, as can many other substances. Even air can dissolve in water. I’m going on and on, but I find it interesting how I can take something as remarkable as water for granted most of the time.

Oh, and shouldn’t I mention that water is beautiful? Mike has talked about the first time he saw Niagara falls (it took his breath away, literally), and about the time he saw a giant yellow moon breaking the horizon one night over Lake Michigan. Mike took the picture below at the Atlanta Botanical Garden this summer. It is similar to thousands of beautiful pictures we have all seen. This one represents Mother Earth. Water does make the world green and lovely. The picture also illustrates another characteristic of water, which is that it is reflective. Think about that.

Water has always represented spirituality to people. To Christians, the ritual of baptism, which involves either having water poured over the person, or total immersion into water, is a necessary prerequisite for salvation. The Hindus have seven sacred rivers (I think there are 7). Observant Jews utilize a ritual bath (mikve) for various spiritual purposes. Roman Catholics have used holy water in their rituals for over 1000 years. In the  book of Amos there is a famous and beautifully poetic line, “But let judgment roll down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” The reference here seems to be that water will let nothing stand in its way, although one can dig in and get a lot more out of it than just this one idea. I’m sure that the capacity of water to cleanse has a lot to do with its symbolic capacity to transform the ordinary into the pure and the sacred. If you are interested you might want to go the “The Water Page” at www.africanwater.org/religion.htm for more information.

If you want to read an interesting book, check out “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother” by James McBride. What I got out of it was how much courage people can find within themselves, and how much respect people can earn from and show to others.  We need more of this in our angry and troubled world. His water reference is, of course, to the fact that that water has no color. Color is a difference in people, and cats, that we all need to look past. I can appreciate and enjoy everyone’s uniqueness, but it is best to not judge others on their superficial characteristics. I am black, which is fine, but please relate to my inner cat, and I will relate to yours.

I don’t even know how I got started on this. sometimes I just write about whatever enters my mind. We need to get back to what is going on in Happy Meadows next time. Happy Autumn!

The Crossword Puzzle

So, I probably haven’t told you yet that Mike is an avid crossword puzzle attempt-to-solver. There are half-solved puzzles lying all over the house. This morning Mike picked up one of these puzzles only to discover that Michelle had filled in an answer for him. The definition read  “Harlem Renaissance writer Locke.” Michelle penciled in “Alain.” Mike was a little embarrassed that he was unacquainted with Dr. Locke, so he did some research (see below). Strangely enough, in the puzzle, 3 definitions away from Alain was the following definition: “Author born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum.” The correct answer to this, Mike was able to figure out, was Ayn Rand. How could these 2 people wind up in the same crossword puzzle? You can’t get more black and white.

Alain Locke was a Harvard educated writer and philosopher who is considered to have been the Dean of the Harlem Renaissance. He was the 1st African-American to win a Rhodes scholarship. This was at a time (1907) in which they probably didn’t think to ask if an applicant was “a Negro” or not. When he got to Oxford he had trouble finding a school that would admit him because of his race but he did get admitted, and spent 2 years studying there. He then went to Berlin where he studied for another year. I don’t think there was another African-American Rhodes scholar until 1960. Locke was a mentor to a great many of the writers, artists, and musicians in the Harlem Renaissance. He published the important work The New Negro, a collection of writings by African-Americans, in 1925. (Actually, there also were a few progressive white writers in this anthology as well.) He contributed several essays of his own to that work. Locke was a member of the Baha’i faith, a religion which teaches the importance of unity and brotherhood. He was an individual who left the world a better place than when he found it for his being here.

Ayn Rand, on the other hand, believed in the primacy of the individual and of the importance of personal freedoms above those of society in general. An atheist, she rejected any notion of spirituality, believing  that ultimate truth is derived through reason. Her most successful novel, Atlas Shrugged, depicts an America in which the most persecuted minority is the businessman. She tells a story in over 1000 pages of America’s greatest business people and talented artists going to the Rocky Mountains, forming a commune, and going on strike. Published in 1957, the book was extremely popular among young women because the protagonist was a powerful young woman. Mike remembers that a girl he was dating at the time telling him what a wonderful book it was. So one summer he read it and found that it was a terrible book. The premise was absurd and what was particularly astonishing to Mike was how seriously the author took herself. Did she really expect anybody to read 1000 pages of political polemic, or the full text of a 65 page radio speech found near the end of the book? The best thing that Mike can say for it is that he didn’t read most of it. Rand founded a school of philosophy, which attracted very few adherents in her lifetime, and hasn’t done much better since she died in 1982. If you’re interested, by all means look up her “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” in which she presents her theory of concept formation. She believed that she got all of her ideas out of her own head, and that it was the only legitimate process that one could approach to discover truth. She also had quite a high opinion of her own head. She once said that in the history of philosophy she can only  recommend the 3 A’s: Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand. Rand’s current popularity has to do with her philosophy of free market capitalism, which is generally libertarian in its formulation. She also is quite popular among a number of political conservatives who are nevertheless somewhat uncomfortable with her atheism. Mike is not sure how much of any of this is true, including the report that the flower arrangement at her funeral was 6 feet high in the shape of a dollar sign. You can look it up if you want to. Mike and I both think that unity and brotherhood are ideals to be striven for in society. At the same time, individualism and freedom has to be guaranteed. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in our country and our society over the next few years.

I will note here that August 28 was the 62nd anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. Mike was a kid in Chicago at the time. Since Emmett was from Chicago, there was a great deal of local news coverage of this tragic crime. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before or not, but this was one of those incidents that changed history. It brought national focus to the danger that black men (and women and children) faced in Mississippi on a daily basis. Interestingly, it was what motivated Rosa Parks to refuse to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama a few days later, setting off the Montgomery bus boycott, which also changed history and put Martin Luther King on the national stage as chief spokesman for the civil rights movement. I will get back to Emmett Till another time. I will say that it’s a damn shame what happened to him and to thousands of other young black men (and women and children) in the South. And I think I speak for all cats when I say this, not just the black ones.