Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Meditation on Life

Today is my 52nd birthday -- Happy birthday, McKenz! So I thought I would try a meditation on life itself. I can always argue that this is very relevant to law and libraries, because if there were no life, there would be no law, nor any libraries. On this day, 52 years ago, I was born. What has that meant for me and for the world?

I was born into a web of life, on a planet that has achieved consciousness because of the life forms present there. So far, we know of no other planet that hosts life (though we suspect there must be others somewhere). We humans co-exist with myriad other species, from microbes, to fungi to plants, to all types of animals. We depend on the intricate inter-relationships of these creatures to produce our food, oxygen, and clean up the detritus of living.

Now, in my 52nd year, it is very obvious to me that the over-growth of human populations (and our effluvia) is threatening the balance of life on our planet. Our government in the United States is unwilling to take the bold steps to curb pollution, war and destruction of the planet here. I am very sorry about that because I believe that our children and grandchildren will inherit increasingly disastrous problems because of our unwillingness to act now. But, I have hope that we will not completely destroy the web of life, even if we destroy our civilization and human life.

Aside from the rather grim global view, I hope that I will leave the world a better place for my having passed through here. I cannot claim any great inventions or scientific or medical advances. But I try to leave every place I have been a little better than I found it. Every house I have owned, I have worked to create a hospitable and pleasant garden that supports local wildlife. I have been able to register each of my 3 yards as National Wildlife Backyard Habitats. That has been a great pleasure as I learn about the native plants and animals in my locality.

I have tried to make each house more energy efficient, more pleasant, and better maintained when I sell it. I have tried to leave each neighborhood in better condition than I found it, with neighbors who know each other and support each other. I have to say this has been a huge learning curve. I have gotten better at this with each move I make. I was not raised in a neighborhood where people really talked with each other or knew much about each other. So this was something to learn about.

I am trying to make my professional groups a bit better as I move through my career. I push to be the best I can be at my job, and to keep learning to stay current. I try to mentor and help others, and to think deeply and originally about our issues. I have been so lucky to have found my profession as a law librarian. I try to let students know about this terrific field, and to encourage them to consider it as a career.

And I am trying to raise children (2, Zero Population Growth -- nobody talks about this any more!) who think of the community and world as much as they think of themselves. I believe we are here for a higher cause than amassing wealth and competing for power. This does not mean I cannot strive for a decent wage, housing, food and education. These things should be available to all. But I do not think it right to put my interest in improving my lot way ahead of improving the neighborhood, city, state and world in which I live. When 10% of the population has 80% of the wealth, that means there is only 20% left of the pie to be shared among the other 90% of people.

I am unhappy that so many people in my country and even my church are pre-judged on the color of their skin, their ethnicity, religion, education, gender or sexual preferences. I find my own prejudices difficult to root out, and hope that I might one day overcome them.

My goal has been that, when I die, I should be able to look back over my life with pleasure and pride that I have lived out my values. I already have regrets, where I feel I failed or fell short. But when I make decisions, that is my measuring stick. Being more than half through my expected life, it is worth considering my values, goals and how I measure up.

This beautiful illustration of the Tree of Life is from a very interesting website, http://tolweb.org/tree/. This seems to be a collaborative project putting up information on biology, with excellent bibliographies, images and in-depth information. The image is their browsing tool. An interesting way to navigate and categorize their information.


jennimi said...

Happy Birthday, Betsy. Though I only know you through this blog I can say with confidence you HAVE made this world a better place... through your connecting of people with information and your valuable insights. jenn

Marie S. Newman said...

Happy Birthday, Betsy. What a thought-inspiring post!

Marie Newman

Betsy McKenzie said...

Thank you both so much for supportive comments! It's a scary thing to be so public sometimes.