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There are no two more different people on earth than my sister Lenya and myself, according to people who assume they know us well.

She is stunning. I am plain; such is the basis of all other assumptions about us.

And also of strangers. One day as we were walking, I stopped to tie my shoe on a busy city street and told her I would catch up. As it was, she loped ahead and I didn’t meet her until shortly after this:

The hot dog seller, the construction workers at lunch on the kerb, the university students; they all stared at her in awe of her litheness, her long, shiny chestnut hair, her perfectly proportioned oval face. One man’s jaw dropped. None spoke.  As I strode to catch up, I was greeted with vile cat calls from the construction workers.

“Yo, baby, shake that fat ass!”
“Hey, smile! Smile!
“Ungh! Ungh!”

I wanted to burst into tears, but dared not. I didn’t want to embarrass my sister or myself. When I finally did catch up to her, the innocent look she’d been wearing for those men dropped as she smirked at me.

“I’ll bet it really sucks to have to deal with that.”

Why do people think that just because someone is beautiful that they are all other good things? That biological indicators of symmetry, fitness and health equals honesty, intelligence or compassion?

I am a good person!

I must stop allowing the bitterness to take over.

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“Mommy?”
“Hmm?”
“Mommy!”

“What, Patrick, what?”

“Stop reading and talk to me.”

“OK. Book is closed.”
“If I was a dog I’d go, ‘woof-woof’?”
“Yes. Approximately.”

“And if I was a cat, I’d go, “meow-meow’?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“But what if I were a rock?”

“Rocks don’t make their own sounds, honey.”

“But when I throw it, it makes a sound!”

“That’s because it hit something else. Rocks aren’t alive.”

“Oh. So dogs and cats and us are alive.”

“Yes.”

“Are rocks alive?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“Rocks don’t grow.”

“They don’t?”

“No. And rocks don’t feel anything.”

“Do flowers feel?”

“I think we’re trying to find out. Scientists, that is.”

“Flowers are alive.”

“Yes.”

“And carrots?”

“Plants are alive until we pull them off the trees or out of the ground.”

“Is dirt alive?

“No. Dirt’s just ground-up rocks.”

“I’m confoozled.”

“When you are bigger and in school longer, you will learn all about it.”

“OK. It’s OK to eat carrots?”

“Every living being has to eat to stay alive, so, yes, it’s OK.”

“Would a tiger eat me?”

“If it was hungry and could catch you, yes!”

“I would run and run!”

“It would be better to be far away from a tiger.”

“I saw a cat outside eat its babies!”

“What! When?”

“Today! They were tiny!”

“Oh, honey. I’m sorry. Sometimes that happens.”

“You won’t eat me, will you?”

“No! Oh, no wonder! Believe me, I would never eat you! I love you!”

“You do?”

“Yes!”

“OK. That’s very good.”

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For the sake of argument,  let’s say the man’s dead.

I must ask: all that money he had, and it only went to fighting? He couldn’t funnel money into, say, researching and creating an alternative to oil so that entire regions of the world wouldn’t be dependent upon one energy source? If he had, the West wouldn’t be there! Maybe that was just an excuse. And for what?

I don’t cheer, but I don’t feel sorry for him. He had a chance to use his money and education for more than a pissing match with the West. He could’ve led the Middle East to a future that went beyond oil, but he didn’t. And for what?

In those last seconds in the firefight, I wonder, was all of this death and destruction worth it to him? Was there a moment when the horror of realization struck, that “this never changes”? Was he so wrapped up in being the holy martyr that he forgot: it never changes? That no one ever wins?

Eurasia has always been at war with…

As seriously as these men on both sides take these wars, in the end, it’s still the same old “mine is bigger than yours” racket that’s gone on since the savannahs. Thus, hundred of thousands more have had to die since 2001. Why?

Jay and Jackie, whom, granted, I didn’t know well, are still gone.  Hundreds of thousands of civilians, men, women and children – gone. Thousands of troops – gone.

And for what, again?

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I took the check, but something felt off about the whole transaction, even as I entered the amount in the ledger and put the check in the locked canvas bag.

“Thank you, Miss Taylor.”

“Just doing what’s right.”

There it was, just doing what’s right. From anyone else, I think I would’ve been able to sense the empathy toward the children who needed the afterschool playgroup. But Miss Taylor seemed obligated. Maybe I’d feel differently if she’d ever smiled. For years, I noticed that she didn’t seem interested in folks she spoke to on the street or at church, but conformed to the social code. I never thought she listened to other people, but waited to make a polite reply and take her leave. She gave every year to various charities (I volunteered at some of them myself; it’s a small town), and it had to be a major sacrifice on a secretary’s salary. I wondered why she bothered.  Or was I guilty of childish judgement?

The noise of the children’s laughter outside rose as I handed her a receipt.

Thank you, Gwen.”

“Your donation makes a great difference here, Miss Taylor.”

She regarded me, seemingly from the tip of her nose.

“As I said, just doing what’s right.”

She turned on her heel and walked out.

They say God loves a cheerful giver, but I wonder if it matters. Miss Taylor’s motives are beyond my ability to grasp, but she gives. She helps. That has to be good enough.

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Recently, I watched a BBC documentary series called Light Fantastic about how the study of the properties of light fueled not only physics and  other sciences, but ushered in the Enlightenment itself. While watching, I remembered a business trip I took to Florida where something strange about the atmosphere was happening. I still don’t know what it was I was seeing.

It was early February in Orlando. The weather was mild, about 70 degrees most days, and not a flake of snow. Obviously.  Sunshine everywhere outside, yet there was what I can only call a distinct lack of colour saturation. A greyish, dull paleness abounded, as if the place had been recreated by aliens who had neither a chroma key nor knowledge of red or yellow on the visible light spectrum. Sol himself was an insipid, watery ball and I could look directly at him in his anemic state without the help of sunglasses. Even the lawns, far from their usual Technicolor splendor, looked almost blue. Every hint of vibrancy was stripped away, and I wondered if something wasn’t wrong with my vision. Inside my hotel room, however, colours were normal. All was confusion.

I can’t find any explanation on what was happening, and I’ve never experienced it since. London’s parks looked as green and lush to me on its cloudiest day, and I found Australia in winter to be quite vivid, if cooler.

What was this phenomenon? I’d be glad to know if only to rule out “6 days of crazy”.

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