Monday, April 19, 2010

Living With Uncertainty

In Provence, in the south of France, we have been left in awe by construction dating back centuries, or even millennia. It is not guarded, or even roped off, in many cases. The sight, feel and even smell of it create mental images of extraordinary labouring by large numbers of virtual slaves who quarried and then hauled hand-hewn rocks for miles before hoisting them up precipitous cliffs to heady, even lethal, heights. There craftsmen chiseled and chipped away until the stones fit perfectly into an arch or wall, all without mortar. In many cases those who began the project did not live to see it finished. But in spite of the crude tools and technology, the construction remained and, despite bombardment, abuse and disregard from time-to-time, they served their purpose well beyond redundancy. It is not just awe-inspiring, but sad.

Our North American society creates little that lasts more than a decade, let alone a lifetime. We claim some sort of societal supremacy simply because we have the means to toss our possessions away before they go out of fashion, whether they work or not, and pull down perfectly useful construction to improve functionality or property values. No wonder we have a “waste” disposal problem.
Today, thanks to the volcanic-enabled vacation extension, we explored more of the historic and picturesque sites within a few miles of our home base. Our dear, longsuffering hosts have graciously extended our welcome, which we have so much enjoyed. And some of our new friends, English and Canadian, Bill, Jenny, Meeta and Gerald, took pity on us, given our refugee status, and extended their hospitality yet again. But before we engaged in a delightful culinary 3-hour leisurely “lunch” put on by Bill and Jenny, Bill took us on a pre-lunch walk amid the nearby French Colorados. There ochre was flushed from the iron rich soil to be used for tainting tiles and ladies’ faces. Later, a post-lunch stroll through the nearby village of Rustrel (pop. 672) was enjoyed by all, except me who took full advantage of a particularly comfy recliner Bill offered for my afternoon nap.
Throughout these warm spring days in Provence I have been repeatedly reminded of a much earlier era when little changed for generations, and the greatest uncertainty faced by the rural population was the weather. To say life was simpler would be a gross understatement. “Progress” was made over many years and was limited in most cases to an improved wall to keep the wild boars out of the gardens or an aqueduct to serve the village or supply water to crops. We measure “progress” in the seconds it takes for scientific or other discoveries to circumnavigate the globe electronically, after which they becomes old news. We lust after change, and clamour for it to happen instantly, falling into anxiety and depression when it does not magically and momentarily materialize on our mobile devices.
I may be unpopular in saying this, but might it not be better if we abandoned our impatience and super-charged expectations of an immediate panacea for the problems that plague us, like volcano dust and Parkinson’s? I do not mean give up hope, or slow down the gallant efforts of those seeking solutions to natural or neurological tragedies. But can we not try to curb our annoyance at the slow, our demand for the instant, our appetite for speed. Perhaps we might take up the outdated and unpopular view of our predecessors, who naively contended with uncertainty without blame or short attention spans, and who measured progress based on the long view and not short life spans. Perhaps we need to spend more energy on how to cope well with the uncertainty of PD and not knowing the departure date of the next flight home.

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