Kids have a way of reducing serious academics down to the ridiculous. It may have been a passing phase (for some ;-D), but I remember our ‘Spanish For Travelers’ teacher being so pleased to see us dive into our English/Spanish dictionaries. Poor naïve woman…I still sometimes wonder if she had a clue as to which foreign words we were interested in looking up first.
In similar fashion I was in Freshman Biology when I learned there were all kinds of serious minded palaeontologists, geologists, psychiatrists, historians, parasitogists, pathologists, psychologists, archeologists, anthropologists, zoologists, chemists and others involved in the study of (wait for it…) coprolites.
Feeling like I’m forever auditioning for Jeopardy, you may be asking (like I did) what is ‘coprolite’? Short answer? What is fossilized excrement.
I’m not proud of it, but the mental images crossing my adolescent mind of what that lab must have looked (and smelled) like were hilarious to my teen-aged antenna. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, even then, mine was a serious mind.
OK, OK…to make a long lecture short, it turns out that even if you’re a dinosaur, $|*|i+ happens. But before you and other members of polite society start gagging in Victorian revulsion, suppress your flinch long enough to consider the question: ‘Could there be a better way to determine what our ancestors ate; what they died from; what their DNA looked like or even what sex they were?‘. Bizarre? Perhaps. Oddly and eminently logical? You bet.
Every civilization and society has historically been confronted with this fundamental Truth: people eat and drink and stuff happens downstream. From the earliest Bedouins to ancient Roman architects, 18th century urban planners and modern-day military commanders have all understood what you did with what comes out, matters. It happens to everybody – no exceptions.
So with our past yielding depository evidence of our temporary status on the Planet, I don’t know why I was surprised earlier in the week when I read blogger Alfredo Behrens talking about the coming global toilet boom. Yep, that’s right. In fact, Bill Gates himself wants to reinvent the device. Seriously folks, you can’t make this stuff up. Seems the Gates Foundation held a contest aptly titled “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” and a team from the California Institute of Technology won it. In fact, they not only won but they won with a design for a toilet that is solar-powered AND generates hydrogen and electricity in the process.
Granted, the implications for such a device are huge for the Third World, but there is a point here. You might think it’s nuts, but would you buy a house or rent an apartment that didn’t have a bathroom? Of course not. You can predict needing such a room (hopefully on a regular basis). In fact, it’s become a fixture of the American standard of living. Others want a part of that dream. In fact, it turns out there are going to be 350-400 million people becoming urban residents over the next 30-years. Add to that the reality that “there are currently 2.8 billion of our fellow earthlings that don’t currently have access to sanitarily acceptable toilet systems”. You see my point? Talk about an emerging market!
So for having indulged me and this mini-lecture series, we see that no one is immune from dealing with poop. It happens.
As many of you know, my version of ‘$|*|i+ happens’ was last March when I lost my job. Like it has so for so many other Americans, I was thrust into the sudden and harsh reality of doing whatever I had to do to financially keep my household afloat while I looked for a job. One component of my campaign was entering the ‘temp’ market.
Not being one to sit on the couch and pray for a job to land in my lap, temping was another less-than-traditional way to find a gig and figure out a way to make it work while still retaining some degree of freedom to search out the illusion of my ‘perfect job’ at the same time. Desperate times do call for desperate measures.
And let’s be honest here. While everyone I know wants a permanent job, it’s a misnomer. Nothing in this life is permanent. And truth be told, plenty of employers now routinely rely on using the temp approach for project work (defined duration) and temp-to-perm. It’s a good way to minimize risk while they get to know you and you them. Either way, one party (them or you) can flush and step away when the assignment is over. No foul. Nothing’s permanent. Hard truths? Absolutely. But unless you relish doing a bad impersonation of an ostrich with its head in the sand, it’s the law of the street right now. ‘Stuff happens’ – so what you do when you gotta do matters…like I said, essential stuff.
Granted, hourly wages aren’t going to put anyone into a Lexus, but if you’re paying attention, you can learn valuable things about how tough you can be when the rivers dry up (or at least the rivers you were used to). What’s amazing to me isn’t that I saw a muddy bottom as much as I gained a whole new healthy respect for being able to see where I could walk to cross over to something better and do so without drowning in the process. When the Doubt kept whispering in my Soul’s ear, and I don’t know how, but I had enough sense of Me to keep telling myself, ‘this is only temporary…‘.
Going to bed by 8PM and getting up at 3AM so I could work 70+ hours this week hasn’t left much time for my spousal unit (or for my 2nd love…blogging), but I’m grateful for the part of me that I suspect may live in you too…the part of you that refuses to settle…even when Despair is at-hand. Yes, $|*|i+ may have happened to me and Mine, but we’re in it together and we’re going to be fine. How do I know?
If it pleases the Court, may I present two closing pieces of real-life evidence:
I remember a friend of ours from when we lived in the barrio. Nancy was a single mom who refused to let her poverty break her spirit. She was not going to let her kids see her lower her head or drop her shoulders. The same woman who told me everyone (including her enemies) deserved a hello, a glass of water and a good-bye, told me of a time when the only way they could eat was to dumpster dive. How did she know the good restaurants from the bad ones? By inspecting their trash, of course. She even went out of her way to make a game of it and have the kids guessing menus and making up superhero names for each other. My god…the woman had a heart that refused to bleed and a backbone of tungsten steel. She knew her Life was kicking her in the teeth, but the love of her kids never let her quit and she was not going to have them feel second-class to anyone. Somehow, someway, she knew it was only temporary.
Only recently, years after that time in her life, I heard one grocery store bakery in particular that could not, by law, give their day-old pastries to the poor or homeless. Liability issues and such…but that being said, carefully wrapped food began appearing in the dumpster every morning around dawn. Over and over through that rough spot, flat pieces of cardboard joined the menu as serving boards…and then the deli stuff started joining the party. And it lasted until the very week she was able to start working again…to the very week! As far as we know, the grocery never knew Nancy or when she went back to work. So how does that happen? And her kids? Not scarred at all, but each one keenly aware of how tough their mom was when she needed to be. And they know it’s within them too. They know they can survive and prosper in the face of almost anything! What a gift.
My grandmother once told me the story of how they struggled to put their kids through college back in the 40’s and 50’s. With the tuition for the other kids taken care of, there was nothing left for my moms’. 17-days before the deadline, a pick-up truck pulled up in their drive. Two guys got out and talked to my Grandpa for quite awhile before shaking hands. Turns out the two were from Standard Oil of Ohio and they’d found a small deposit of oil on the family farm. Like a mini-version of The Clampetts, the one (and only one) oil well pumped out enough cash to cover the cost of college (but no more). And you guessed it, 2 ½ weeks after my mom graduated, the well dried up – forever. I say again – how can I not believe in miracles when I’ve seen this kind of thing over and over? Life finds a way of making sure you get what you need. Don’t hide your need, let it be known. Name it so it can be met in equally adequate fashion.
Having a rough time right now? Lots of us are.
Scared at seeing more shelf than food in your cupboard? Others have been there before you.
Afraid it’ll never get any better than what it is now? Don’t be. That’s just ‘Doubt’ talking. Doubt being the first cousin to Fear, his sole reason for living is to mess with your mind. If it helps (even a little bit), let me share a thought that keeps crossing my mind about Doubt and his mission of mayhem.
How about if I mess with his mind?
Do it. Do it proudly and with abandon. Laugh at the stupid stuff that only you do. Rent a funny movie. Make a play date in the stairwell and go mountain climbing with your kids. Sing every lyric of every song on that album that used to be your favorite back when vinyl was king. In fact, TURN IT UP and sing along – Loudly. Declare it! Watch old episodes of ‘I love Lucy‘ or ‘The Carol Burnett Show‘. Just do something. Why do I suggest any and all of these silly actions? Simple. Because for all of Doubt’s ‘noise’, there is one thing (and only one thing) he can not do. He can not make your Choices. He is not allowed. That is for you to do as a Child of the Cosmos. You have standing here. Neither Doubt or his twin, Despair, can live in you except with your permission. You are the landlord and try as they may to pretend, they know it too.
Bad times dribble off. New chapters are written as easily as Continents were discovered and old worlds rendered to the Past. If you refer to the change jar in your bedroom as your ‘saving account‘, remember ‘Change’ is the only Constant and in the meantime? We are blessed to all be here together. Keep walking Pilgrim. You’re going to be fine this week. Take comfort in the fact that since the time of the dinosaurs, there is one thing we now know for sure. This too, shall pass.
SOURCES, and Attributions: Henri Nouwen –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Nouwen; Importance of human waste to Archeology: http://www.wotwaste.com/waste-articles/historical-waste/what-s-the-study-of-faeces-called-and-why-study-it; http://archaeology.about.com/od/cterms/qt/coprolites.htm
WANT TO READ MORE FROM BEHRENS BLOG? ~ Here’s an excerpt from Behrens blog (HBR – 7:00 AM August 21, 2012):
“Bill Gates, as you’ve probably heard, wants to reinvent the toilet. The winner of his first Reinvent the Toilet Challenge was a team from the California Institute of Technology that designed a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity. This isn’t just a curiosity. The Gates Foundation sees better toilets as key to fighting disease and improving lives; for business, what they represent is a huge potential market. I have come across many writings about entry strategies and product offerings for emerging markets, but little that addressed the sheer sizes at stake. Toilets help illustrate just how gigantic the opportunities, and challenges, will be.
The largest markets will be seen around the axis of India and China, because both countries have huge populations, with a significant share still living in rural areas. India, for instance, expects to see some 350-400 million people becoming urban residents in the next three decades. That could mean demand for as many as 150 million new toilets.
The world demand and supply gap is daunting: the largest supplier of toilets is Roca of Barcelona, which sold 32.5 million of them in 2010. Kohler is a distant runner-up, with a yearly output of 20 million units, most of them unsuitable for low-income markets. Renovation and upgrading in the advanced economies probably accounts for about half of the production of toilets there; meaning that only about a quarter of the rest can be sold to emerging markets where, altogether, there are about 2.8 billion people without access to sanitarily acceptable toilet systems.”
PHOTO and ILLUSTRATION CREDITS:
Corprolite: Dinosaur Dung from the Jurassic Period (130 Million Years Ago) – http://www.indiana9fossils.com/Coprolite/Large-Dinosaur-Coprolite.htm; Unemployment Line In Cumberland MD c_1960: http://chewhatyoucallyourpasa.blogspot.com/2009/10/so-re-unemployment-thing.html; Daughter of The Dumpster Dive: http://www.ecofabulous.com/ecofab-faves/the-art-of-dumpster-diving/; The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt (from 1663 until 1665) oil on canvas – Current location: Hermitage Museum (Room 254), St. Petersburg, Russia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_(Rembrandt); Standard Oil Delivery Truck: (HH-!stMacStdOilTruck) – http://www.keyshistory.org/HH-Harry-Harris-Biography.html; Chagall, The Birthday – Second tale of creation – the garden of Eden: http://www.artbible.net/1T/Gen0204_2ndTale_eden/images/20%20CHAGALL%20BIRTHDAY.jpg ; Postcard This Too Shall Pass: http://prozacwithdrawal.blogspot.com/2012/07/going-through-withdrawal.html; Phyllis Diller: (Photo Credit: ROBERT GALBRAITH – REUTERS) in the Washington Post.; Neil Armstrong (REUTERS/Yuri Gripas) compiled with NASA photograph of Neil Armstrong’s Lunar Foot print.
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