The lake at winter pool seems like a world long forgotten. The water birds leisurely take the place where boats once sped by pulling tubes full of laughing kids. The only sounds are that of lapping water and the occasional Blue Jay in the trees along the canyon walls. If not for the bridge it would be easy to believe that this was a world reclaimed by nature. Behind me, McKees Creek looks like a Martian landscape except for the road and bridge that is under water the rest of the year.
Once I returned my gaze to the main body of water and the bridge that takes Route 19 from Summerville to Mt. Nebo I began to think about how bridges symbolize transition. Here I stand on one shore looking at the device that would get me to the other side. But from this perspective the bridge is unreachable. If for some reason I needed to get to Mt. Nebo I couldn’t get there from here. The road that I’m standing on disappears beneath the deep lake. I would actually need to backtrack a few miles in order to reach the right road. I would have to admit that I was in the wrong place before I could get to where I needed to be. I could deny my error and complain that they put the bridge in the wrong place or that there should be a ferry to help people who are on the wrong path but the bridge was placed where it needed to be and there is no ferry. A way was made for me to use and in order to use it I am the one who needs make the adjustment. I would have to correct my own errors and get on the right road. The longer I delayed resolution the worse it get.
Over the years it was hard for me to learn to quickly admit when I was wrong and thereby avoid complicated entanglements that made it even harder to fix. It’s still something that I have to “fine tune” at times but it has been one of the most empowering life skills that I’ve gained. It’s also the skill that has given me the opportunity for the most progress in multiple areas of my life.
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Tonight’s image is an old mile marker that’s found along an abandoned road near the Meadow River in West Virginia. Apparently it marks mile number 42.
Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Universe have already begun to snicker. For the rest of the world here’s why. In the book and subsequent movies a large supercomputer named Deep Thought was built to answer the ultimate question of “What is the meaning of life, God, the universe and everything?” After billions of years Deep Thought came up with the answer 42. The irony was that the people who built the computer were long dead and by the time the answer came nobody could remember the question or why it was asked. Now, to be honest I have never read the book and was only present while the movie was playing. As such, I’m only familiar with the trivia. But when I heard the story I began to appreciate implication.
We as humans seem to be hardwired to want to skip learning experience and go straight to mastery of just about everything. We want the “cheat codes”. So much so that we often put more efforts into gaining the cheat than we do experiencing the win. In the Hitchhiker’s Guide the scientists and priests who spent all that time looking for the meaning of life did so at the expense of living life to its fullest. This is the folly of trying to win at all costs. It’s the struggle that makes the victory sweet. If you skip the struggle then the victory is hollow and you never really get to experience it fully. What’s more is that you tend to be so focused on the goal that the importance of the original purpose is lost.
Maybe I’m making that very mistake myself in trying to make my point. Let me close by simply saying that life is an adventure. One that you’ll miss if you try to skip ahead.
Oh and the answer to the question asked by Douglas Adams? Well, I have an opinion of course. The meaning of life, God, the universe and everything is that we were created by God to know the love of our creator. That’s it. It’s that simple. No need for advanced AI or billions of years waiting for an answer that’s as vague as the question. Just talk to him and listen for answers.
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Nobody is born being an expert. We might all have different aptitudes for various skills but it’s practice that makes perfect. Even if we achieve the skill level of “expert” that doesn’t mean that we are free from simple human error. Suddenly being faced with the undeniable truth that you’ve made a royal screwup is God’s way of keeping us humble. In other words, oopsies are the great leveling force of the universe. Remember, it was experts that built the Titanic and amateurs that built the Ark.
When I saw the collection of lost fishing tackle snagged in the overhead power lines my first thought was that someone’s kids had been on their first fishing trip. This inspired the meme below.
But after some thought I began to consider the phenomenon of “muscle memory”. If you are trained to cast a line with a high arc you might not think to adjust your cast while standing under the power lines. Your reflexes would kick in and your body would react out of pure instinct. You would do the right thing but at the wrong time. This kind of mistake happens to all of us and it happens more often than we care to admit. It also happens during the thought process and when reacting to something that someone else has said or done. I think that’s why it’s important to be quick to forgive. Jesus said to let he who is without sin cast the first stone. While there’s different interpretations of what was being implied in this statement I believe that at least in part Jesus was pointing out that errors in actions often include errors in judgment and nobody is immune from this. The experts in the law were reacting out of reflex without examining the circumstances. It’s the same kind of mistake we all make every day.
Today we have machinery that does most of the work. But there was a time when each spike was driven by hands of a worker. Each beam was placed on a platform that was also laid down by human hands. The heavy iron rails had to be moved into place and precisely positioned. The land wasn’t joined by steel as much as it was the blood, sweat and tears of men who placed it there. Today, I was reminded of one such person who’s very name brings to mind myth and legend. The real John Henry. I understand that some of my international friends may not be familiar with the story of John Henry, so here are the basics. John Henry was a railroad worker and possibly a former slave who was working on the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia. At the time when the industrial revolution was bringing about new technologies. Namely, the steam hammer. A machine that drives steel without rest. A machine that threatened the livelihood of every worker building the rail system. In an effort to save the jobs of himself and his coworkers John Henry challenged the steam hammer to a race and he won! The power and strength of a man who could out work a machine must have been an awesome sight. However, the story ends in tragedy. John Henry dies of exhaustion that very night. The steam hammer gets the contract to complete the railroad. Why would I write about such a sad story on my normally upbeat blog? Because, it’s happening again. Our world is changing. More and more I see and hear about automation. Robot cars are replacing Uber drivers, self checkout is replacing cashiers and software applications are set to take over other jobs. This not a race people can win by brute force. This is a thinking game. ( using the word game metaphorically). At the time of the steam hammer a man of John Henry’s strength and power could have done very well by shoveling coal that powered the machine instead of trying to out work it. He could have adapted to work with the technology and become an invaluable part of that team. As we move into the future of automaton I want to encourage you to think differently about how to adapt to the new work environments. The robot car can never be as romantic as a horse and buggy ride in the country. There will be those older folks who would rather pay someone to do their shopping for them rather than face the self check out. Jobs won’t go away completely. Instead, new niches will form and with them will be new opportunities.
I see the railway in the feature image and I see a man, a machine and the new opportunities that lay unseen just beyond the next bend in the tracks.
It’s not easy to step out onto the edge. There’s something about that place if transition from one state of being to the next that really gets our attention. We get butterflies in our stomachs and our knees begin to tremble. We can feel our hearts pounding as adrenaline surges through our veins. That’s the feeling I would have during a repelling exercise or leaping from the tall cliffs into the water. In my young mind I knew that this is what it felt like to fly. Fear, excitement and recklessness all come together to form the experience. When I was a kid I had the opportunity to spend some one on one time with some of the Blue Angels flight team and I like the way one of the pilots described this feeling. He said that “There’s no difference between the thrill of flying and the fear of falling.” His point was that it’s in overcoming your desire to remain comfortable with your circumstances that we become more than we was yesterday.
It doesn’t have to be piloting the latest and hottest high performance jet at beyond the speed of sound. It doesn’t even have to be leaping into water or sliding down a cliff on a rope. (In fact especially not the cliff in the feature image. There’s no water under the rocks here and it’s not a legal place to repell from.) It could be as simple as deciding to strike up a conversation with that person who you’re interested in or starting a blog where you share your deepest thoughts with the world. Whatever it is know that when you overcome that shaky feeling that this is what it’s like to fly.