Years ago, as I staggered into the Emergency Room at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, I was gasping for breath with a life-threatening asthma attack. The doctors and nurses rushed me into a room and started to give me intravenous epinephrine to enable me to breathe easier. It was, to some degree, a frantic scene...one straight out of a medical series on television. As the lead physician (Dr. Joe) walked in, and all the others who were subordinate to him looked to the good doctor for approval, he gently checked all the doses, connections, charts, and the patient, to make sure everything was going as he directed.
As it turned out, after an overnight stay in the hospital, I was free to go home. Since I lived around the corner it wasn't a long trip. But...the memory has been imprinted in my brain ever since.
Life is strange and, as luck would have it, Dr. Joe was - within a few months - in my office with his prescription. I was to take care of his vision and was very pleased to do so. He and I became good friends. On occasion we would meet for lunch and talk about our philosophies of life. The first time we walked down the street together he confided in me by saying, "You know...if I hadn't have been there that night, you would have died. Your attack was that bad." In my mind...I knew it. However, hearing it from him brought chills to my being. How lucky I was that Dr. Joe was "on" that night.
We continued walking and I mentioned to him how incredible I thought life was, how fantastic it was that nature created so many amazing things and how beautiful our world truly was. He responded by telling me that he was awed at the inventiveness and innovation of humans and how much he admired the creations our species had crafted. Walking past the skyscrapers of downtown Philadelphia he said, "Look up, look around, look down. See what I mean." I couldn't deny what he was saying. Yet...I also felt that nature created the most incredible things this planet has ever been graced with. Species, mountains, oceans, energy, continents, vegetables, fruits, love, and so much more.
Both views are valid. In fact, both are very compatible. Humans, of course, have also invented war and weapons that may someday wipe out life as we know it, as well as the ability to save peoples' lives from disease and other ailments. Yet...the one thing that could save us all may be very simple. If we, each and every one of us, would step back and look at the beauty (both natural and man-made) that surrounds us, things may begin to change. If we just did that simple act, spent a few moments each day marveling at the awesomeness of nature and the innovation of humankind, we may see life from a broader perspective. Perhaps a perspective that will enable us to ALL say, "What the heck are we doing to ourselves?" Maybe we'll realize that our self-sabotaging behavior could ruin everything that is good about life and it's even possible that we might start to eliminate the bad.
All it would take is a few minutes of stopping our daily madness each day. Call it meditation, realization, or whatever you'd like. But...no matter what label you use, I believe that if each of us took a few minutes a day, at least a few times a day, and looked at the beauty of life and our exceptional existence - we may be able to save ourselves from ourselves. Look around - it's worth it.
Today we celebrate "Our Mother." The ceremonies, at least the ones associated with this specific day - and the week preceding it, started in 1970. Back then, I was a twenty-two year old who was very familiar with the Be-Ins that were held on Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. I attended them regularly and this time was no exception. It was not unusual to see thousands upon thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of people gathered to listen to some of the most popular bands in rock-n-roll perform at no cost to the attendees. There was always a feeling of camaraderie there and, besides the enjoyment of music, a purpose - whether it was about ending the Vietnam War, or protesting prejudice and supporting civil/equal rights. But on this day, there was a different agenda, another goal of awareness, and a new call to action.
It was as much a Teach-In as it was a Be-In. Sure, there was lots of music, but there were also speeches about the destruction of our environment, the polluting of our rivers, stream, oceans, air and lungs. We were learning, or reinforcing, the realization that our penchant for "progress" was killing us. Humans, for some bizarre reason, have this self-sabotaging behavior of wanting to destroy our home. We will do whatever it takes to take whatever we want...regardless of the consequences to our planet, ourselves, or future generations.
The speeches that day by Senators Edmund Muskie and Hugh Scott, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, poet Allen Ginsberg, and many others, were calls to stop the madness and to enable us have our home become the pristine place it was not that very long ago.
That first Earth Day has morphed into a tradition and a movement. And, while some "believe" that climate change doesn't exist. Or...that pollution is somehow a result of "progress," with byproducts (like carbon dioxide) that should be taxed or traded. I, sadly, see that we haven't exhibited very much love for "Our Mother" or ourselves in the last forty-two years. Yes, we've made some progress in correcting pollution. But not enough. For every step we take to correct our problems we also add new ones. Our food is now "modified," our water comes in plastic bottles, or taps need filters to clean out what was originally clean, and our clothes contain toxins.
So...what have we learned since, at least, 30,000 people attended that event in 1970? Perhaps we're more aware of how we're poisoning ourselves, "Our Home," and our children. Maybe we've altered our behaviors and don't consume things that we know will destroy us. It's even possible that we're changing, in positive ways, as a global society. But - time is of the essence. Otherwise, it's entirely possible that someday in the future, they'll be no people left to celebrate "Earth Day." Be constantly vigilant. Because...there is only: one Earth, one atmosphere, and one species known as Homo sapiens. Let's all work to make sure they all exist in a healthy manner for a very long time.
I've traveled quite a bit: been all across the U.S., in lots of countries in Europe, stuck my toe into Mexico and Asia, adventured in Africa, and caressed the Caribbean. If someone gave me a choice as to where I could live outside of my beloved Philadelphia (my favorite place of them all!)...there are four places that stand out (this doesn't mean that my list can't change as I continue on life's journey - but here's where it's at now).
St. Bath's in the Caribbean is paradise. In fact...it's where Jimmy Buffett used to live and - his song "Cheeseburger in Paradise" is written about a little eatery there (yea...I ate one at the place, and - it was great. Just like the entire island). St. Bath's is French, and the atmosphere is of that lifestyle. Beautiful beaches, a friendly populace, and a joie de vive that permeates the entire place will always keep this wonderful island on my most enjoyed locations - forever.
Nova Scotia is pure beauty. A number of years ago Conte Naste magazine named it as the most beautiful island in the world. It's magnificent. And...most of us can drive there! That's right, hop in your car, take off for Canada, turn left, and voila! New Scotland (which is what Nova Scotia means). The views on the Cabot Trail (on Cape Breton - the northern most area of the
province) are unbelievable. Great hiking, superb vistas, and the mellowness of the ocean, mountains, and wonderful hospitality. That's tough to beat!
Istanbul is outstanding. It's in both Europe and Asia. The people are friendly, the place is steeped in history, the food - fantastic, and the scenery incredible. There aren't many places on this planet that combine the heritage, people, and views that Istanbul (and Turkey for that matter) does, and - in a way that makes one feel at home - instantly. For those of you who are wondering (and this question always seems to arise when I speak about Istanbul), it's secular, tolerant, and a place that looks like a major western city with the texture of the east as well.
Ireland. Ahhh...Ireland. There's a reason why it's called the "Emerald Isle." That's because it is! The grass looks like sparkling emeralds. It's difficult to explain unless you've been there, but - it's almost iridescent, a brilliant shade of green that's not often seen anywhere else. Once in a great while I'll see a pasture that reminds me of Ireland and have to stop my car to admire the view. Yet, I know it's not the "real thing" unless I'm "there." I love the food of Ireland, its people (so welcoming, kind, light, and friendly), the majestic castles, views and cities. And - THE MUSIC! Irish music is enchanting. I listen to it often (in English and Gaelic). The beauty of it is that traditional Irish music keeps living on. It hasn't been forgotten by today's musicians. In fact...it's still wholeheartly embraced - and I'm very happy about that! So...on this Saturday, I wish all my Irish (and non-Irish friends) and VERY Happy St. Patrick's Day! And...if you ever get the chance - you may want to "Watch the sun go down on Galway Bay."