The below essay was written for a writing workshop on Lane’s Island, Maine, July 27th, 2013. The workshop was led by author/writer Penelope Robinson.
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SEEING FAR

An island allows for many joys. A certain dash of isolation is one of its allures. Those in the fine arts thirst for that quality. Writing and painting, in all genres, flourish. Like the intertidal zone that begets a diversity of life, so an island attracts young, old and in-between to its shores.
The tides remind me of the hurry, hurry world some of us try to leave behind or, minimally, slow down here. Six hours in. Six hours out. And then again and again. Waves of spartina grass cha-cha to its rhythm.

I take joy in a different island characteristic. This quality allows me, and anyone who cares to take the time, to delight in its properties, to be seduced by it. Sometimes, we become so transfixed by this attribute; we don’t realize its workings. What am I referring to? Seeing far.
There is something about those uninterrupted, watery vistas that help unclutter the mind. Recent neurological research shows multitasking, which in our cell phone, texting and twitter way of life now, does the opposite. Grappling with many tasks at once clutters the mind.
Seeing far sweeps clutter away. Where it goes, I don’t know. I don’t care.

I crave unclutteredness. Why? It is a prerequisite for clarity. That, in turn, is a prerequisite for making connections. So let’s put this to work.

For instance, let’s take sequestration. It is what I call an excuse word. It means those we sent to represent us, and I hate to say “we” sent them, didn’t legislate. They fussed. They fumed. They fulminated. They left and went home.
What were the consequences of all this? The federal government’s aid to the states was cutback. In turn, the state’s aid to our cities and towns was slashed. Having no entity to pass this misery on to, the latter did the following. I’ll put it in personal terms. My local car tax increased twenty-five percent. What?!*

We were told that sequestration would spread the misery equally. They said. Of course, we have learned to watch what they do. And what was that? In Bath Maine, Bath Iron Works just “won” the privilege to make four DDG51 Navy destroyers at a cost of $2.84 billion. An option for a fifth ship would bring the total to 3.53 billion.

A conga line of politicians, including Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Senator Susan Collins, and newly elected, independent Senator Angus King, lined up to make this happen and cheerlead it forward. These killing machines are to be added to the sixty destroyers the USA already has. Equality anyone? And what are the general consequences of all this Ra Ra for the military industrial complex?

Abdurahman Al-Awlaki was a sixteen year old, U.S. citizen visiting his father in Yemen. The youngster, born in Colorado, was planning his return trip to the USA and to his family. He never made it. Abdurahman was vaporized by a drone strike. While his father was an avowed terrorist, none of this had to do with his son. No matter. U.S. drones, a different kind of killing machine, are judge, jury, and executioner.

Let’s procure some help from another who saw far. In the early 1940s, a young Carl Sagan looked out over the ocean from his bedroom window. His mother, nestled by his side, told him that on the other pole of that expanse, men were fighting. Young Carl responded in a most unusual way. I can see them, he said, as he strained his eyes to stare into the inky black of a water/night admixture.

Carl Sagan would go on to help us all see far. Other galaxies came into focus. But not all his visionary focus was aimed at the stars. He saw the danger of a military connected to big business and profits. He helped us prevent a potential earthly happening – nuclear winter.

Sometimes we can see far by looking back. It can come from the most unlikely of sources. Dwight D. Eisenhower declared in his farewell presidential address, beware the military, industrial complex.

The former general knew. He saw the waste of human resources and lives in the early part of the 20th century. He saw far by looking back. He made connections. We need to learn these skills. Pass it on.

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