The Need for More

Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard claims to be a Marxist, a Groucho Marxist that is. In his TED Global 2014 talk, How to let altruism be your guide, he quotes Groucho as saying: “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” Of course you’d expect that from Groucho the comedian, but from billionaire, Steve Forbes? Yes, Ricard also heard Mr. Forbes say the same thing on Fox News.

Thankfully, not everyone is like Mr. Forbes and Ricard gives us the science that demonstrates many people truly behave altruistically as well as that many more can be trained to act selflessly. He says his scientific demonstration and 2,000 years of contemplative experience validate that 20 minutes of quiet meditation a day for four weeks will bring about significant positive change in an individual’s brain activity making them more concerned for the well-being of others.

We can do something culturally as well. We can work for sustainable harmony. Ricard explains:

“Sustainable harmony means now we will reduce inequality. In the future, we do more with less, and we continue to grow qualitatively, not quantitatively. We need caring economics.”

Now why would anyone prefer altruism over selfishness? Besides making a better world for everyone on this planet, paradoxically it, more than all the material accumulation one can imagine, fills that need for more that we all experience. Thanks Matthieu.

Dan O’Donnell

Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

Come Dance with Me

You might ask me: “What in tarnation makes you think: ‘you are God’s gift to the world?’” Well, I’ll tell you. Actually, no, I’ll let Aimee Mullins do that with her inspiring October 2009 TEDMED Talk: The opportunity of adversity.

If you take the time to listen to Aimee’s talk above I’d bet you’ll realize that Aimee is not the only gift God has given the world. We are all God’s gift to the world. Aimee ends her talk with the following poem from a fourteenth century Persian poet.

“Every child has known God,
not the God of names,
not the God of don’ts,
but the God who only knows four words
and keeps repeating them, saying,
‘Come dance with me.
Come, dance with me.
Come, dance with me.'”

(Hafiz)

I think it’s time to tell the real story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, those characters we hear about from the evangelists. They probably did not have the hindsight that the gospel writers had. They probably wondered why they were given the adversities they experienced, a child being born out of wedlock in a world that believed the woman in such a situation should rightfully be stoned. And they were afraid. Why else would we keep hearing the words: “Be not afraid.”

So, it’s not even Christmas and I’ve received the gift, the gift of life, the very particular gift of who I am with all my frailties, talents and fears. Like Mary I can say yes to these and in turn give that gift back to the world, a world so in need of what I have to offer, myself—yourself.

Merry Christmas!

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

Memories of Christmas and It’s History

Following dinner and a day of dusting the blinds scouring every nook and helping mom prepare the canapés that were popular in the ’50 for the company on Christmas Eve, we were told to go upstairs to see what Santa had brought us. All excited, I’d run to the bedroom I shared with my four brothers, only to find a new pair of corduroys and a shirt. Those weren’t items I put on my imaginary list to Santa. The night wasn’t over though, so I donned the new clothes and hoped for better things to come.

Soon, the aunts, uncles and cousins starter showing up ‘til the house was filled with people who were becoming more and more familiar to me. I especially liked to see grandpa who would magically make pennies appear from quarters. We got to keep the pennies, and the dollar that came in a bank envelope with our name on it. When the evening was over, we’d go down the street to Immaculate Conception Church for Midnight Mass.

Today, I’m looking forward to our cousins party this coming Friday. I know all forty-five of my first cousins, many of whom will be there, but their children and now their grandchildren, throw me into a dither trying to remember who’s who. On Christmas Eve, my brothers and their families will gather at my niece’s, share some food, reminisce and once again, I’ll head back into town to attend Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s in downtown Chicago.

This Christmas business comes at just the right time of year. The long dark, cold nights and overcast days of December make me long for Spring even knowing that here in Chicago, that’s often not much better weather-wise. As a child I was taught that Christmas was all about the birth of Jesus in a stable at Bethlehem bringing God to life in our midst, our Emmanuel. Today, I appreciate that story, but understand why earlier Christians chose this time of year to remember our roots. It’s a holy day and a holiday, a holiday that started in pagan Rome and… well I’ll let the History Channel tell you all about it in their Real Story of Christmas… My hope, is that no matter what your religious beliefs, you’ll find much joy and peace at this festive time of year. Happy Holidays

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

 

 

 

From Rags to Riches to Rags…

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Most of us like stories, especially when we are young. And we like stories that begin at ground O and ascend on up toward 100. An upward climb from low to high is preferable to a downward slide from high to low. “High” usually represents success, while “low” represents failure. So when a boy or girl brings home a report card, he or she wants to report to inquiring parents: I got a high grade, rather than admitting: they gave me a low grade.

That mindset is behind a lot of good films that record the hero or heroine of the story proving to be a success because they moved from low to high in their life passageway. Few films achieve success if they depict the central character of a film in a downward spin, ending in disaster or failure.

True though this be, many of us carry the burden of failures in our lives. They may not be obvious to others. In our youth we had dreams of successes in what we set out to achieve: happy marriages, lucrative business ventures, children of whom we could be proud, fine reputations, the house of our dreams, early retirement followed by the pursuit of enriching past-times about which we had always dreamed, associations with the rich and famous, reputations gaining us access to the pinnacles of power and prestige. But, instead we may wake up each morning facing a day in which we have to drag ourselves from morning to night: faltering marriages, troubled children, collapsing business ventures, failing health, distrust from among colleagues, constantly being overlooked in the arena of promotions, being the butt of jokes, disdain among collaborators, reputation for being a loser, etc.

Early dreams of being climbers, that is, those who have effortlessly moved from the lower echelons of life upward on a constant climb toward goals that I have pursued all my life, thrill and excite us. EXCELSIOR! has been a dream to be achieved. Who would not want that to be emblazoned on our life story! The counterpart of that, of course, is LOSER. To be regarded in this way is a dampener difficult to bear outwardly, and inwardly depressing and deflating. Undoubtedly many suicides terminate the lives of those enshrouded with a constant sense of their inability to escape the sense of being enclosed in a hole in the ground from which no escape is possible.

It makes an interesting comparison to present a counter situation in which the dynamic of upward and downward is changed from downward to upward, and presented as movement from upward to downward. As depressing as some of the above description appears, at least the theme of upward and onward pervades the description of the scene presented. But there’s another way of describing movement between down and up, in which the predominant mindset is from upward to downward. Using the terms found in the title above, there is also the experience, less frequently experienced, thankfully, that might be suggested in these terms: From riches to rags. It would be the contrary of the situation just described, where the motion from rags to riches is the dominant driving force, and instead plays out as a downward, sinking sensation of moving from riches to rags.

In this setting, one comes into this world with a silver spoon in his/her mouth, where all of the elements making for success, are at hand, so that a high-energy effort at reaching out to achieve and acquire the building blocks of success are already at hand, but, through unforeseen events, such as the Great Depression in 1929 and the succeeding decade, calamitous losses befell the makers and shakers of society, leaving them and their families deprived of all their assets. They became “losers” of all the benefits they owned—property, financial instruments, lives of leisure—and found themselves at the bottom of the upward ladder toward success, and inexperienced in the struggles needed to move upward.

So the question is presented to us: what is the more devastating experience to undergo: to move from rags to riches, or from riches to rags? And though the more common sequence is the former alternative, instances of the latter are not lacking. And should we ask ourselves: which is the more difficult situation to sustain (even though each scenario contains the same elements, but in a differing sequence), the answer seems obvious.

This leads us to the figure of Jesus Christ, and to the unique experience He underwent: from that of heaven itself, downward (so to speak) to a penurious life in this world of ours, followed by a brief but highly successful three year period of untold success, followed by a calamitous ending in shame and ignominy, but concluding with an unprecedented upward movement into His heavenly home. How do we understand His “life”: from rags to riches, or from riches to rags, or might it be both? Do our lives bear any resemblance to this?

Let’s Dream

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

One of my favorite pieces of literature is Don Quixote, the Man of LaMancha by Miguel de Cervantes. I remember reading it as a student at De Paul University in a remote corner of Alumni Hall in the 1960’s. It is the only classic that I remember really enjoying which of course says more about me than the “classics”. I totally identified with Mr. Alonso Quixano as he went after windmills and damsels in distress. He knew how to dream.

Dan Pallotta also knows how to dream. Born in 1961, he is an author, public speaker, entrepreneur and humanitarian activist. He is also married to his husband and together they are raising their three children.  In 1961 such a description would most likely have banned him to a life of obscurity. The above credits belie such a fate and suggest to me Dan learned how to dream. His talk demonstrates that well.

Pope Francis is a dreamer. The Catholic News Agency reported Pope Francis’s dream. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Pope Francis said: “I have a dream…”, this one for a unified Europe, this past Friday May 6, 2016 as he accepted the Charlemagne Award. He joined the ranks of other famous unifiers like, Pope John Paul II, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, King Felipe of Spain and a host or other winners. That’s quite a litany of dreamers.

Guess I’m not the only one who liked Cervantes’ work either. Dale Wasserman’s famous 1965 play, Man of LaMancha is based on Cervantes’ work. That play inspired the 1972 Movie by the same name. Both feature one of my favorite songs, The Impossible Dream with lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh.

Think I’ll join Don Quixote, Dan Pallotta, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pope Francis and dare to dream another word for prayer, the second definition in Dictionary.com. Want to come along?

 

Ambition: Virtue or Vice

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.Where would the world be without some ambitious people? We think of the marvelous benefits we enjoy as a result of ambitious people intrigued by the thought of trying to implement a new idea they’ve had. Ambitious people usually seem to be the creative sort, who are driven to try out a pathway for themselves that is somewhat unique. However, this is not necessary, since the ambitious also enjoy whatever is new and challenging for them, regardless of how many others have preceded them in attempting the same thing, like climbing a very high mountain.

At times there are ambitious types who want to get ahead, so that where others are “at” determine how ambition plays out in their lives. But not all. For there are some people who have an inner drive and determination to succeed, to do something different or unique. It is part of their makeup, perhaps better called a gift or inner drive that is part of who they are.

Rock climber at sunset background. Sport and active life

There are athletic types, for instance runners, whose ambition is to be the best in their school, or their city. It’s an inner drive, already implanted in them without their striving to acquire it. In their case, ambition is a gift or endowment that makes a person who she or he is. It is competitive but its inner energy is less focused on others in an effort to best them, but more on oneself and the inner satisfaction of using to its maximum a gift or talent one has, regardless of the competitive aspect. So often ambition is focused on doing one’s personal best, regardless of others.

Ambition is the drive to excel. And it revels in doing so. It has its origin within oneself but its termination point is usually outside oneself: to be the best pianist I can be, or to be the most humorous person , or the most successful salesperson, or the most caring surgeon. None of these accomplishments would be possible without ambition. And while there is personal satisfaction in achieving these goals, often connected with this sense of accomplishment is the good that one can do—a good that is other-oriented. It’s good, not just for oneself, but it’s good for others too.

To be engaged in an activity simply because I enjoy it, with little or no thought as to whether I am successful at it, is not to be overlooked. I may belong to a bowling team comprised of those, myself included, who bowl for sheer enjoyment, relaxation, and fellowship with others who also bowl.   The ambition operative here is simply to “have fun”, to unwind, to relax. This is a form of ambition not to be overlooked. In the long run, ambition can simply be a mode of self-expression. It is not necessary to think of ambition in terms of others.

In this season of political activity, we note men and women ambitious to gain prominence in an effort to secure a victory that will help them win an office or position in various levels of government. To call them ambitious is not necessarily a criticism. They may be ambitious because they think they have the talent and gifts to improve the lives of people in view of the ideas the political candidate would bring to a position, should he or she win the election.

In the last analysis, ambition should be considered a gift of God, or an endowment, or a skill, along with a keen intelligence, a quick wit, a strong character or a charming personality. So it will undoubtedly come up for scrutiny at the Last Judgment, together with other traits and characteristics of our life. And the judgment leveled on us may, surprisingly, not necessarily consist of the charge that we were overly ambitious, but also that we were not ambitious enough, that is, we did not sufficiently recognize or develop or utilize our ambition, since it was a gift of God.

We might look to Jesus Christ and ask the question under consideration here: was He ambitious? Did He have a burning desire to achieve a goal or task? Did He exhibit any signs of His determination to achieve it? Certainly, His adversaries, among the Jewish leadership, considered Him exceedingly ambitious in the claims He seemed to be making about Himself (Jn. 6.42). and was He not still just a boy when, on the occasion of “being lost in the temple”, He responded to His mother’s mild complaint: “your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety”, by asking: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2.48-49) Here Jesus speaks of a strong ambition of His, to identify Himself with His Father’s program. And we recall His opening words at the Last supper: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…” (Lk 22.15), indicating an ambition He had been planning as the grand finale of His life’s work. So from the beginning till the end of His life among us He had compelling ambitions driving Him to significant actions.

They convey to us the truth that Jesus, like us, harbored ambitions within Himself. So we need not speak of being victims of our ambitions. Rather, we should think of being utilizers of the ambitions with which God endowed us to do what He had in mind when He enriched us with them.

On the Ups and Downs of Squirrel Life

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Squirrels have a mixed reputation. On the one hand, many regard them as “cute”, full of life, with that curious way they have of looking at you, inquisitively, wondering what you are up to. Is it to be good or bad for them? So their muscles are always taught and drawn up tightly, especially if we are unfamiliar to them.   As we draw close to them, they wonder if we are up to tricks with them, whether for good or for bad. But they can be playful, if we have a bag of nuts that we scatter before them. And they engage in chatter with one another, which is engaging to some of their admirers.

a squirrel

On the other hand, there are others for whom squirrels are a nuisance, even somewhat threatening, because they can inflict a fair amount of damage with their incisor teeth and their sharp claws, which serve them well in climbing trees and scampering over limbs, leaping from one to the other. And they bear a facial resemblance to rats, at least for some people, which is reason enough to dislike them. Admittedly, they are troublesome, especially for gardeners, who are proud of their sprouting and budding flowers and food products as they emerge out of mother earth. Squirrels, along with rabbits, can prove quite troublesome for these growths.

Some people find squirrels good eating. Like rats, they are rodents, but, unlike them, are a clean type. And their diet tends to be of the clean variety, as witnessed by those who build feeding stations for birds alighting in their back yards to eat the bird seed placed in these cages to attract birds. Understandably, this frustrates and angers bird-lovers who try to attract these lovely fowl to their yards, but squirrel-lovers find it an intriguing and engaging past-time to watch the amazing gymnastics of a squirrel working its way up toward a bird cage with adroit maneuvers in an effort to gain some good eating.

Perhaps that is why birds try to harass squirrels, to ward them off the birds’ food supply. As if in reprisal, birds attack squirrels, especially when they are most vulnerable, scampering along telephone wires. Of course, these attacks are not always retaliatory. They can be playful too. This interplay also occurs at the site where each of them is most comfortable and “at home”: the trees, especially where they are numerous and clumped together. It is there that both birds and squirrels have their natural habitat, moving adroitly within and around them, making their nests in the leafy confines thriving there. The tree world is the natural habitat for the squirrel, who gains most attention for its daring and often hazardous leaping from one willowy branch to another, bending and swaying under the sudden weight of a squirrel leaping onto it from another tree.

But the phone wires, which are not the natural habitat for squirrels, even less so than for the bird family, nonetheless provide convenient unhampered travel paths for moving quickly and adroitly from one point to the next. At the same time, the wires provide one of the great threats besetting the otherwise attractive travel systems in the squirrel world. For these wires, extending from telephone pole to telephone pole, serve to power the electrical power generators serving the immediate neighborhood around them. Occasionally, an inquisitive squirrel, intrigued by one of these power units, will stop to explore it, in the course of which it will come upon something attractive to its appetite in the electrical cable converging there. And at that point will imitate Eve’s succumbing to her appetite, by biting into it, thereby suffering the same tragic end that she did, which, for the squirrel, meant being fried to death by the electrical wiring to which it was unwittingly drawn.

.
What is more, just as Eve’s miscue affected many more than just herself, so the squirrel’s mistake spills over into the lives of others, throwing into confusion the neighborhood served by that particular electrical power unit, which, in losing all its electrical power, shut down all the services provided by that system. Understandably, this does little to redeem whatever disesteem into which the squirrel species might have fallen among its admirers.

Such is the ups and downs of the squirrel in the eyes of its observers. While it may enjoy attributes that are the envy of those familiar with its antics, comparable to that of the daredevil taking incredible chances to gain the admiration of those less prone to expose themselves to danger for what seems to be foolish or insignificant advantages, the squirrel pays the price for costly miscues and miscalculations, evidence of which we note on the pavement beneath telephone poles where the remains of a daredevil squirrel lie alone and unattended.

Such exploits may not be attractive to many. Nor may they prove consistently worthwhile or advantageous to their observers. But they bask in their well-deserved reputation for being industrious and hard-working. Their sagacity and capacity to build nests for themselves and their family at the onslaught of cold weather, and their diligence in burying nuts of various kinds in the earth around their familiar haunts as fall changes into winter is noteworthy for its prudent foresight in providing for the welfare of its dependents. We might try to imitate their admirable qualities, while avoiding some of their foolhardiness.

Squirrels have a mixed reputation. On the one hand, many regard them as “cute”, full of life, with that curious way they have of looking at you, inquisitively, wondering what you are up to. Is it to be good or bad for them? So their muscles are always taught and drawn up tightly, especially if we are unfamiliar to them.   As we draw close to them, they wonder if we are up to tricks with them, whether for good or for bad. But they can be playful, if we have a bag of nuts that we scatter before them. And they engage in chatter with one another, which is engaging to some of their admirers.

On the other hand, there are others for whom squirrels are a nuisance, even somewhat threatening, because they can inflict a fair amount of damage with their incisor teeth and their sharp claws, which serve them well in climbing trees and scampering over limbs, leaping from one to the other. And they bear a facial resemblance to rats, at least for some people, which is reason enough to dislike them. Admittedly, they are troublesome, especially for gardeners, who are proud of their sprouting and budding flowers and food products as they emerge out of mother earth. Squirrels, along with rabbits, can prove quite troublesome for these growths.

Some people find squirrels good eating. Like rats, they are rodents, but, unlike them, are a clean type. And their diet tends to be of the clean variety, as witnessed by those who build feeding stations for birds alighting in their back yards to eat the bird seed placed in these cages to attract birds. Understandably, this frustrates and angers bird-lovers who try to attract these lovely fowl to their yards, but squirrel-lovers find it an intriguing and engaging past-time to watch the amazing gymnastics of a squirrel working its way up toward a bird cage with adroit maneuvers in an effort to gain some good eating.

Perhaps that is why birds try to harass squirrels, to ward them off the birds’ food supply. As if in reprisal, birds attack squirrels, especially when they are most vulnerable, scampering along telephone wires. Of course, these attacks are not always retaliatory. They can be playful too. This interplay also occurs at the site where each of them is most comfortable and “at home”: the trees, especially where they are numerous and clumped together. It is there that both birds and squirrels have their natural habitat, moving adroitly within and around them, making their nests in the leafy confines thriving there. The tree world is the natural habitat for the squirrel, who gains most attention for its daring and often hazardous leaping from one willowy branch to another, bending and swaying under the sudden weight of a squirrel leaping onto it from another tree.

But the phone wires, which are not the natural habitat for squirrels, even less so than for the bird family, nonetheless provide convenient unhampered travel paths for moving quickly and adroitly from one point to the next. At the same time, the wires provide one of the great threats besetting the otherwise attractive travel systems in the squirrel world. For these wires, extending from telephone pole to telephone pole, serve to power the electrical power generators serving the immediate neighborhood around them. Occasionally, an inquisitive squirrel, intrigued by one of these power units, will stop to explore it, in the course of which it will come upon something attractive to its appetite in the electrical cable converging there. And at that point will imitate Eve’s succumbing to her appetite, by biting into it, thereby suffering the same tragic end that she did, which, for the squirrel, meant being fried to death by the electrical wiring to which it was unwittingly drawn.

.
What is more, just as Eve’s miscue affected many more than just herself, so the squirrel’s mistake spills over into the lives of others, throwing into confusion the neighborhood served by that particular electrical power unit, which, in losing all its electrical power, shut down all the services provided by that system. Understandably, this does little to redeem whatever disesteem into which the squirrel species might have fallen among its admirers.

Such is the ups and downs of the squirrel in the eyes of its observers. While it may enjoy attributes that are the envy of those familiar with its antics, comparable to that of the daredevil taking incredible chances to gain the admiration of those less prone to expose themselves to danger for what seems to be foolish or insignificant advantages, the squirrel pays the price for costly miscues and miscalculations, evidence of which we note on the pavement beneath telephone poles where the remains of a daredevil squirrel lie alone and unattended.

Such exploits may not be attractive to many. Nor may they prove consistently worthwhile or advantageous to their observers. But they bask in their well-deserved reputation for being industrious and hard-working. Their sagacity and capacity to build nests for themselves and their family at the onslaught of cold weather, and their diligence in burying nuts of various kinds in the earth around their familiar haunts as fall changes into winter is noteworthy for its prudent foresight in providing for the welfare of its dependents. We might try to imitate their admirable qualities, while avoiding some of their foolhardiness.

The Freighter, the Great Lakes and God

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Spring is usually a longed-for season of the year. It represents the verge of warmer days, though just gradually.   At the same time it hints at the diminishment of snowfall, if not instantly and completely, at least slowly and partially. And it teases inhabitants of northern climes with little green shoots struggling up through the ground. All in all, it is the epitome of promise.

Promises, of course, are not always kept. Or, at least, not always kept promptly or completely. And, when that happens, it is often accompanied by the qualifying phrase: “What I meant by that promise was…”   With reference back to the weather system again, what the weather man or woman must often do is qualify the promise of spring with the cautionary remark: “…this is not how it OUGHT to be…”

Now, in addition to mother nature’s signs of spring’s arrival, there are other indications to fall back upon, depending on the part of the country in which one lives. One might be the reduction in size of the rocksalt piled up throughout the city by the Streets and Sanitation department, signaling that much of the winter has passed, since the salt used to cope with the snowfalls on the streets has already been reduced in size, suggesting that it’s unlikely to be needed in any significant way in the coming days. Or, bundled-up fishermen and women head out to the waterways in their part of the country to catch great amounts of small smelt fish in their nets, one of the reliable signs that, regardless of the cold, spring is at hand.

In the Midwest, one such waterway is the Great Lakes system forming borders of several states. The lakes are good, not just for smelt fishing. They’re also good for transporting: raw materials like iron ore and limestone from places like Duluth Minnesota to reprocessing plants in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. They can be large ships, as big as ocean-going vessels. They are a key component in the chain of plants representing various stages of the manufacturing process so central to the economy of a nation such as the U.S.

And it is interesting to note that they are a key element in another aspect of this interlocking system of heavy industry: the movement phase of raw material, from one part of the country, to another. Key components in heavy industry have to be transported from one part of the country to another, and much of this occurs on the waterways provided by the Great Lakes. And it is these large freighters that move these raw materials from one part of the lake system to the smelting and refining process found at another part of the Lake.

It is this background that provides another way of noting the arrival of spring, at least for those living in and around the Great Lakes. It is based on the inter-lake transport carried on by these large freighters as they ply their way from one part of this waterway system to another. For during the winter season these ore carriers, big and powerful as they are, are unable to make their way through this water system because of the freezing temperature conditions that prevail in the upper reaches of the Great Lakes. This results in a formidable sheet of thick ice covering the surface of the entire lake (Superior), preventing its usefulness as a waterway. Not even ice-breakers can make their way through this daunting ice mass, in effect ending any commerce on the lake(s) for the three/four months of the winter season.

The inhabitants living around these waterways grow accustomed, during this period of time, to nothing but ice sheets covering the surface of the lake(s) as far as the eye can see. There’s not much to be done but to accept it with more or less resignation.

But as their calendars, hanging on the kitchen walls, signal the move through February and onto March (definitely, into April) the hardy folk walking the footpaths around the lake begin to cast an eye toward the horizon enfolding the lake to see what is worth noting at this time of the year, and, eventually, the eye will blink once or twice to refocus its gaze on what begins to take shape on the lake’s surface: the silhouette of a giant slow-moving freighter several miles out in the waterway, making its ponderous way south, toward the elaborate system of factories dotting the far end of the lake system, that have been dormant for several months, waiting for the first arrival of hopefully many such ships hauling cargo to their destination point.

Thereby, for this part of the country, the first signs of spring have emerged. It’s not the song of a bird, or the sight of one with a straw in its beak, nor a blade of grass peeping from the unforgiving ground, nor the shape of a pod on the tree limb above the pathway, nor a bulb struggling out of the ground. None of these are as significant a sign of spring for this part of the country as the slow-moving massive shape of a freighter bearing down on the dock ahead. The good news is out that the waterway is open, for freight-transport is underway. The factories can fire up, the work force can gear up, for another productive manufacturing season.

There’s no need for the nest-building robin, or the budding tree, or the peeping blade of grass to provide an incontrovertible sign of spring so long as the prow of a massive lake freighter majestically overcoming the formidable ice obstruction left behind it as it makes its way toward a familiar port and docking berth to provide the raw material for starting the manufacturing cycle once again. Overcoming the ice mass is as much a sign of God in action as other indications of spring’s arrival.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained*

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

It is interesting to note the skittishness that plagues a squirrel in its response to a delicious nut held out to it by a passerby. Operating at one and the same time within the squirrel is a dynamic thrust forward on its part to reach that nut, and a powerful impulse backward, evident in its quivering leg muscles, to escape the slightest indication of a threatening blow or attack on it, by something near at hand. The onlooker observes with interest how this combination of opposites works itself out. What will happen? Will the desire to eat and enjoy win out, or will the vehement intent to escape harm and avoid injury prevail? The poor squirrel is the victim of contrary forces at work within its high-strung system. Some say that fear of pain trumps anticipation of delight in animals.

This is an apt illustration of how temptation works within us, or on us. We are simultaneously stretched or pulled in two opposite directions by the fascinating impact of temptation on us. Is it more likely that we will ultimately disregard the danger or the penalty involved as a price too high to pay, or will we push forward toward what looms before us as a tempting reward? There is a gamble involved here, and we can only guess (and hope?) at the outcome. But, as the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. But of course there is the counter acknowledgment that nothing ventured, nothing lost.

An inveterate gambler leans toward “taking a chance”. Of course, if this is purely chance, with no semblance of skill or experience whatsoever at play in this exercise, the odds against success in attempting to do so loom large. But if there is a minute indication of gaining out of this exercise, (for instance, I have a history of success at this particular table, wheel or machine) the likelihood of gain rather than loss is increased, at least a bit. But lacking such background, the prospect of loss looms larger.

And yet, despite all these cautions about being venturesome, some people (probably more so than animals) relish the thrill of venturing into the unknown and even the dangerous. Some who do so admittedly bring a considerable amount of precaution into such activity. If it allows of “practice”, then they carefully anticipate the moves that promise to reduce the threats involved, including those designed to soften the impact of “failure” in such attempts.

While there is a personality trait facilitating the venture into the dangerous or the unknown terrains of life (the daredevil type of person), accompanied by the “thrill” experienced in doing so, there is also the “inventor” type personality that seeks to improve upon our standard ways of doing things. The rest of us benefit by the successes of some of these creative people who invent new and better ways of doing familiar things. The inventor type does not necessarily take chances in “tinkering” with alternatives. Rather, they resemble benefactors or “do-gooders” whose efforts often redound to the benefit of the rest of us. Alexander Graham Bell illustrates this type of person in laying the foundations for our modern phone system. The Wright Brothers showed remarkable tenacity in working on the primitive forerunner of the contemporary airplane. And the field of electronics in our own era has exploded with the geniuses of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who have provided us the smart phone and its facsimiles.

They all illustrate the wisdom of the adage: nothing ventured, nothing gained. And we, as well as they, have been enriched by their venturesomeness. This is the “gain” won by the venture. Of course, there are likely more failures and fiascos resulting from these explorations into the unknown than there are successes, but the thrill or satisfaction experienced by the successful entrepreneur attracts our attention more than the failures.

Though these inventors, for such they are, need not only a venturesome spirit, they also need a steely resolve to endure multiple failures, often experienced by themselves alone in the privacy of their basements. Christopher Columbus and his crews on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria were true adventurers as they headed out across the Atlantic ocean, unsure as to their destination and their resources to gain it. Those of us who currently live in that part of the world that they “discovered” do indeed live in a “new world” that has proven highly adventurous in endowing the world at large with a flood of creative ideas that have proven extremely beneficial to scores of generations. It is likely that some of this creative spirit that drove Columbus and his companions has proven contagious across the ages and “infected” many of us with the same drive embodied in the exclamation EXCELSIOR.

*(Benjamin Franklin, author of Poor Richard’s Almanac)