Memories · The Next Half Century

Be Careful!

Last week I went on a simple solo hike through the woods to the lake. It was a beautiful, warm summer day with a clear blue sky — the perfect day to commune with nature and be alone with my thoughts. It ended with yet one more accident to add to the list of reasons why my wife worries about me when I take a hike or start a project around the house. It’s just one more injury on a long list of accidents I’ve logged in my more than half century of living.

My trouble began last week when I finished a short 1 1/2 mile hike through the woods. I started to descend a short hill to the beach and the lake. About half way down I felt my feet slip out from under me and a second later I toppled forward into the sand. It would’ve been a soft landing except on the way down a small tree stump caught my right leg and hit hard against my shin. I stood up on the beach, spit the sand out of my mouth and did the first thing any hiker would do — check to make sure no one saw my clumsy move. They didn’t.

Back at home, my wife gasped when I finally showed her my leg. I assured her the swelling was down considerably since I first incurred the injury. It still looked bad enough to appear broken. A quick trip to the emergency room verified it was not broken, but did confirm my leg was infected. I also learned a memory trick to care for my injured leg — R.I.C.E. rest, ice… elevate. I can’t remember what “C” stands for — even memory tricks can’t help my aging brain.

As I rested, iced… and elevated my leg, I remembered some of the more epic injuries in my life — even though I can’t remember the word for “C”. There was the time when I was five that I was hit by a car. I vividly remember being under the car and the huge bruise on my elbow. The fact I don’t remember seeing the car before it hit me tells you I didn’t look both ways before crossing the street to the playground. Fortunately for me it was in a neighborhood and the car was going slow.

When I was six years old, I jumped off a fence into some tall weeds and found a large spike sticking out of a board. It pierced the calf of my leg and required a trip to the emergency room where my wound was promptly stitched up. It also traumatized my sister who asked why I was being such a crybaby when I ran to the house. One look at my bleeding leg oozing skin tissue promptly answered her question.

Then there was the time, when I was around seven years old, I ran into the kitchen full speed and hit the open refrigerator door head on. The old steel door knocked me out cold. I woke up laying flat on my back on the lawn in our backyard. I recall the look of relief on the faces of my siblings and mom as I looked up at them from the ground.

In fourth grade I was walking to get my coat at the end of the school day and I hit my hand on a sharp corner on a table in the back of the classroom. The resulting cut just below my middle finger was deep enough so I could see my knuckle bone. My teacher almost fainted when I showed her the wound. “Go to the office!” She gasped as she held her mouth. I was taken to our family doctor who stitched up the wound. I am right-handed so for a couple weeks I struggled to complete school work with my left hand. I think because my teacher saw my wound, she pitied me and didn’t make me do all the assignments. My classmates were jealous and I slightly embarrassed by the special treatment — but not enough to enjoy less schoolwork.

Years later I found myself in the emergency room again after I opened the radiator cap on the engine in our car. I had let the car cool down, but was surprised by some pressure on the cap. Coolant sprayed on my face. I quickly ran to our bathroom and jumped in the shower fully clothed to rinse my eyes. When my wife heard the shower, she knew it wasn’t good. She took me to the hospital along with our two year-old daughter. The doctor placed a contact lens type thing in my eyes with a small tube attached and proceeded to irrigate my eyes. My daughter stared at me in amazement as water streamed out of my eyes. “Daddy cry,” she said.

There are many more incidents I could share with you, but you’ve already been generous with your time reading this far. Through it all I am thankful none of them was serious enough to be life-changing. I count my blessings. I’m not exactly proud of my long list of injuries, but it does come in handy as a great conversation starter. For some reason when you talk about your injuries it prompts others to chime in with the gory details about their epic injuries. Which reminds me, I just remembered what that “C”* stands for: “Careful” as in “Be Careful!” I think I wrote that on my forehead, but I can’t see it.

* R.I.C.E. stands for: rest, ice, compression, elevation.

Part of the scenic hike I took last week.
Technology · The Last Half Century · The Next Half Century

Future Self Meets Past Self

I was thinking the other day about what it would be like if my future self visited me when I was in my twenties back in the 1980s. I imagined a conversation something like this:

“Hey, I’m your future self from the year 2020.”

“Whoa, dude! What’s up?” (Apologies to Bill and Ted and their “Excellent Adventure.”)

“Do you want to know how your life turns out?”

“Not really. That’s too scary. How about you tell me something else.”

“Okay. In the future we have smart phones.”

What are you talking about? How can a phone get smart?” My 1980s clueless, land line phone self asks.

“It’s a touchscreen phone that lets you use apps, take pictures, text and surf the Internet.”

“You can surf with your phone in the future? Wow, that must be a pretty big phone.”

“No. You surf the Internet with it.”

“What’s the Internet?”

“Well it’s this global network that let’s you connect with other people around the world.”

“Oh, like making a phone call?”

“Well, you can still do that, but you can also use social media.”

“Social media? In the future the government takes over the media?”

“No, it’s nothing like that. You use online platforms like Facebook to communicate.”

“Facebook? Why would you use a book instead of a phone to talk to people?”

“No, its online social media.”

“The future sounds very strange,” my 1980s self remarks.

“Maybe it’s better if I just leave and wait for you to catch up with me in a few decades. It might be easier to learn this stuff as you go.”

“Yeah, it sounds very complicated. Maybe the world will all make more sense in a few decades.”

“Well…” my future self hesitates.

“Well what?” My past self says with concern.

“Yeah sure, everything will make a lot more sense in a few decades,” my future self responds with a fake smile.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” my 1980s self says. “Things are pretty confusing now. I’m still trying to figure out how to record TV shows with my VCR.”

“Good luck with that,” my future self remarks before he leaves. “See you later, much later.”

“Later dude!” My past self replies as he plays an air guitar.

Poems · The Next Half Century

The Distant Ring of Hope

So many fallen

An invisible force

Young and old

Taken from us

No family nearby

Last breathe taken

Loved ones mourn

Out of reach

Death takes its toll

Virus or not

They die without

human touch

Everyday life

Under attack

Locked within

Personal space

Familiar faces

On a screen

Close at hand

Yet so far away

Trees turn green

Thunder claps loud

Spring flowers bloom

Time presses on

Yet memories remain

Of this mournful time

Solemn faces

Upon our minds

Unseen enemy

Still lurks out there

Distant scared faces

Hidden behind masks

Faded thoughts

Of earlier times

Embracing loved ones

Laughing together

Can we ever return

To that innocent time

Of warm embraces

Unhindered social times

In the silent streets

The barren rooms

The empty halls

I hear a distant sound

In this horrific time

This historic time

I still hear the ring

From bells of hope

© 2020 CGThelen

This poem was written as I reflected on the U.S. reaching nearly 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Perspective · The Next Half Century

The Post Pandemic Era

Yesterday, I caught myself saying for the first time, “That was pre-pandemic.” I was remembering something my wife and I did before the Stay-at-Home orders were put in place in early March. It was the stark reality of the dividing line between life as we knew it and the new normal we now face. It was a moment of coming to grips with the fact that we could not go back to our old life.

Pre-pandemic life meant regular trips out of town to see friends and family. We stayed in hotels, ate at restaurants and shopped in stores without a worry about infectious diseases. My wife and I went to festivals and enjoyed the tapestry of packed crowds, the sights and sounds. In my job, I regularly attended events where I freely mingled with people in crowded venues. Without a second thought, I shook hands with associates in business meetings. We did all this without face masks, gloves, plastic shields and six feet separating us.

In the pre-pandemic world we took for granted how delicately interwoven we are as a society. We did not understand how fragile our systems are for putting food on our table; how dependent we are on things like manufacturing for supplying what we need at a moments notice; how our lives depend on people dedicating their lives to the medical profession. In this pre-pandemic world our heroes looked different than they do today.

Post-pandemic, any human encounter could mean contracting a potentially deadly contagion. It brings with it the revelation of how much we depend on human interaction for daily life. The new heroes are the ones who continue their pre-pandemic jobs in a post-pandemic world — the ones who everyday face the very real danger of catching this dangerous contagion. Medical professionals, delivery people, grocery store workers, trash haulers and so many more are now the ones we recognize as providing the necessities for daily life.

Right now it seems impossible to think we could live in a post-pandemic world without a greater appreciation for the simple things in life — even life itself. As we struggle to define our new normal, I know I now have a greater appreciation for a roll of toilet paper in my bathroom; a jug of milk in my fridge; deliveries to my door; and perhaps most of all, a simple hug.

The memories are what we bring forward. I recall asking those who lived through the Great Depression what it was like. Even though decades had passed, tears would form in their eyes before they spoke. It was all they needed to say about that time in history. It told me the emotion surrounding this pandemic will remain with us for years to come.

© 2020 CGThelen

Perspective · The Next Half Century

Relative Strangers

I look into the eyes of my ancestors staring back at me from old black and white photos taken long ago. Many of these ancestors are like strangers to me; only names of my great grandparents, great aunts and uncles or distant cousins. It makes me wonder what they would tell me today about this pandemic based on the uncertain times they lived through.

There is little to none recorded history about the lives of many of my ancestors — the trials they faced, their thoughts, experiences or emotions — only a few anecdotal stories. I wish now they had recorded at least some things about their life, especially what it was like to endure such major uncertainty like World War I, the Great Depression, or even the Spanish Flu pandemic. A part of me thinks they, like us now, were so caught up in the urgency of the present it was hard to stop and reflect; hard to stop to record experiences and emotions for future generations.

It is often the hardships, the traumatic things in life that shape us the most. Logging our emotional journey through this current pandemic could be a great benefit now and for future generations. Recording uneasy feelings and daily struggles to cope casts a very human side to our current upended life with its new normal.

Today we have so many tools available to record our experiences, enabling us to create a multimedia cornucopia of this period in history. Whether it’s a short video or thoughts scrawled in a notebook, take some time during the coming weeks and months to capture your reflections on what you are experiencing during this incredible crisis. As you do this, consider how to best preserve this valuable piece of history. Whether you’re recording on a laptop, phone or in the cloud, make a backup copy to keep in your home for safe keeping. Even if it’s only a spiral-bound notebook you write in, scan a backup copy for your archives.

By recording your experience you may offer some reassurance, some guidance, for whatever calamity future generations may face. It will also help you avoid becoming a relative stranger in the future.

© 2020 CGThelen