ICE STATION ZEBRA TRANSMISSION 27 January 2016

ICE STATION ZEBRA SURFACING FOR TRANSMISSION
27 January 2016

The Doomsday Clock is now sitting at 3 minutes to midnight but, then again, I’ve lived with the assumption since age 14 that it was about a hair’s width off if not 7 or 8 minutes past.

Pessimism? Some days. “Realism?” I really have no use for most people’s “realism”; it’s usually just an excuse for lazy choices and no effort. And, sure, there are those days I collapse in exhaustion and don’t plan out how to get things done as well as I ought; I lose my temper; people disappoint me; I disappoint me. Like the Steely Dan song “Bad Sneakers” goes:

“Five names that I can hardly
Stand to hear
Including yours and mine
And one more chimp who isn’t here…”

3 minutes to midnight, people. It always is. That’s why I make the attempt to adjust myself to the situation and not expect the situations to adjust to me. That would be the depths of blinding idiocy. In the end, I just don’t have the time to waste on my temper, disappointments, other people’s foolishness, anyone standing in the way of my small but essential mission on Planet Earth. Essential because, if I don’t do it, no one else will and no one else can do it quite as oddly as I can.

Square peg, round peg — the problem is, I’m not a peg.

I’m neither hammer nor nail; knife or meat.

I have chromosomes but I’m not them, as wrecked as that corkscrew DNA of mine is on paper. Besides, once I’m dead, my corpse will still have those same chromosomes, the same number. Theoretically, you could clone my body — you wouldn’t get me back, though (not that I expect anyone would want to do so; and I wouldn’t want to be cloned, anyway). No, I am my autobiography in the context of my history and circumstance. Just as you are. The chromosomes and genetics are just circumstance — the stuff we adjust ourselves to and create ourselves with.

Sometimes the circumstances are helpful — as in, cooperative with my plans — and sometimes they resist and I adjust accordingly. Eventually, at least. Acceptance is the only meaningful alternative in the face of some situations, people, attitudes. I can’t change any of them without their cooperation. So, I’ve just got to go about my business as effectively as I can. Or change directions. Or make the resistance my rock to push up that hill.

“Acceptance” does not mean “approval.” No, many things and many activities and attitudes violate many standards that I reasonably measure my life against and values I work to instantiate in the world. They are antithetical to everything I’ve struggled to learn and correct within myself, no matter how imperfectly. I disapprove of many things, argue against many things and ideas and beliefs, offer alternatives, and satirize some of those as acidically as possible.

Will it have an effect? It doesn’t matter. It makes me who I am to do these things, to bear witness, to bark out the warning little dog that I am. The barbarians may be within the gates but my job was only to warn of the approach, being a guard dog, not a war dog or a master of anything except myself.

3 minutes to midnight.

I read, as a child, that it took maybe hours for the bodies of the large dinosaurs to die even though their brains were disabled, say, in combat. Why? The bodies were so large that the signals sent from the brain took quite awhile to play out even after the brain was gone. But, then again, cut a chicken’s head off: It’s not huge but it takes awhile for its body to figure out it’s dead, too. And dinosaurs evolved into birds… but the point is, we may be 7 or 8 minutes past midnight, people. We may be already dead as a civilization — we’re just so intricate and byzantine in construction that the stuff that keeps us, as a people, held together in a culture and collection of subcultures may be already be fatally “gone.”

And that “stuff” is a certain core of values and ideas, interpretations of those, and belief in the interpretations through social institutions. We may well have “irony-ed” and “sarcasm-ed” and “distrusted” our way out of existence. And are just too damn amused to see it.

I’m unsure, but I fear I may be right. I thought about this hard for years before saying it out loud in 2008 on a friend’s porch one night. But I was drinking as was everyone and no one took me seriously. Lit another cigarette and let it slide… but the thought’s haunted me for years. Something very similar was probably haunting Nietzsche in his maturity before he lost his mind to permanent syphilitic dementia and exhaustion.

He was the watchdog sounding the warning nihilism was approaching but was optimistic new values could be created to replace out-of-effect ones. Ortega y Gasset, in the face of totalitarian communism and fascism, sounded the alarm that people were about to attempt to substitute science and technology for meaningful values.

Much less importantly, I’m here in the wreckage, the aftermath 80 years after Ortega wrote his essay on this topic, to bark that people chose to make nihilism a “style of living” and materialistic reductionism a pseudo-scientific dogma and, equally literalistically, to take up an anti-scientific religious fundamentalism and a legal theory called “Originalism.”

All that and world destroying technology besides. But all this technology is just the dinosaur’s dead body staggering in a pantomime of life, the headless chicken running drunkenly around the yard,

…Ideas which you aren’t paying attention to because they are not amusing, spectacular, or sexy as the cell phone you stare into: You can’t make “memes” out of them that will “go viral.” Legs are what we want on social media, right? Numbers, not qualitative gravity. Things that travel with the speed of push-button prejudice and half-second wisdom.

3 minutes to midnight.

Too much for me, all this. I’m just a guard dog, an underdog, largely an observer and a survivor. I get by being underestimated as my pedigree isn’t much. This means I’m not often noticed, much less heeded; but it does not mean I don’t see and know and put things together, if slowly. It doesn’t mean my small message doesn’t have an important core of truth beyond it.

Unfortunately.

Richard Van Ingram

ICE STATION ZEBRA ENDS TRANSMISSION

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The Letter to My Students, January 2016

 This is the letter I write my students each month; it differs from month to month, depending on circumstances and what I’m compelled to teach and leave each unique group — and some particular individuals who rarely know I’m speaking directly to them in passages.  I don’t know that it matters; I don’t know it doesn’t.  We never know — we do what seems best by our best efforts to discover who to be.   This is part of my effort, such as it is.
I send a letter to my classes each month.  Lucky you, it’s your turn,  The only test it’s “on” is life.  It begins with a quote from a song to set the mood:

“It’s a beggars life, said the Queen of Spain
But don’t tell it to a poor man —
‘Cause he’s got to kill for every thrill
The best he can.
Everywhere around me
I see jealousy and mayhem,
Because no men have all their peace of mind
To carry them.
Well I don’t really care
If it’s wrong or if it’s right,
But until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.

“When the joker tried to tell me
I could cut it in this rube town,
When he tried to hang that sign on me
I said, “Take it down.”
When the dawn patrol got to tell you twice
They’re gonna do it with a shotgun,
Yes, I’m cashing in this ten-cent life
For another one.

“Well I ain’t got the heart
To lose another fight
So until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.

“Well I don’t really care
If it’s wrong or if it’s right
But until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.”

Steely Dan

“Night by Night”

from the album Pretzel Logic

1974

When my thoughts bother me, I sit up half the night or longer.  Most nights, I’m awake as if Truth herself will come over for a visit and ask for tea and cake in return for a good talk.  That’s not going to happen.  Instead, I meditate on things; not idly, but actively, turning problems over and over in my mind.  Sometimes I actually make some progress, though it may take years.

 

Genius I don’t have.  But stubbornness and creativity – those are my cursed-blessings.  And all curses are blessings and all blessings curses, depending on what attitude you take to them.

 

Truth, goodness, beauty: These do not “just arrive” in our lives.  We have to go out and struggle for them, fight for and pursue them with all our might or we get no closer to them than the day we were born.  Maybe we fall further from them.  Because mature activity itself brings truth, goodness, and beauty into the world inasmuch as humans directly experience these.  We see them in an example of a life lived at a high level of intensity, not satisfied with just any old standard or none at all; we see them in works well-made, well-performed.

 

I have seen beauty and honor in a janitor assiduously laboring at cleaning toilets; I have seen viciousness and sluggardly behavior in managers and powerful people in high places.

 

It is ethics that allows us to take what others might take as a circumstance full of curses and turn them to a great gift for themselves – because we are what we choose to do, how we choose to do it, and the standards we choose to live up to; and the same is a gift for others at the same time.  It is a failure of morality that allows some to take the greatest of fortunate circumstances and turn them into a living hell for themselves and those they touch in any way.

 

Think of Enron.  Jeffery Skilling told his professor at Harvard, “Smart?  I’m a fucking genius,” if you recall.  If that is an example of “genius,” I’ll choose to remain poor, worried, cautious, contemplative, artistic, and stubborn.  I’ll choose to remain dissatisfied with myself and continue working at being a little better each day; I’ll continue being not so certain of myself, always having a bit of doubt, and judging myself by a higher standard than I use for others.

 

And, as I told you all, I’m not paragon of virtue.  Or anything else.  I just make a genuine attempt to care until I am exhausted from not sleeping.

 

I worry over my students.  This month has done none of us any favors and I’m not certain I turned the situation to the best effect in how I handled it.  As it’s practically over and I can only correct future versions of the course to adapt it to changing times, there’s little I can do about that.  I had more students in both classes than usual and the work isn’t designed for huge classes.  We had fewer days in which to do the work and I lacked about six hours of lecture to guide you.

 

I have compensated by grading with a lighter hand than usual, though many of you would have done well either way.

 

That aside, if you walk away from this class with anything, walk away with this much:  You cannot afford to make ethical decisions arrived at by “your own personal experiences” and nothing else.  Besides being haphazard and lacking in consistency, you, at the beginning, have no idea where your moral beliefs originated and whether that origin was to meet an actual problem you face or whether it was well or poorly constructed.  You have no idea if the interpretation of the belief you were taught and is reinforced by your culture or subculture is the best interpretation available.  Worst of all, you don’t know if “your personal experience” is limited (it is) to the point of being misleading.

 

No, you must acquaint yourself with the history of ideas to find out where your beliefs came from; you must acquaint yourself with general history to find out how the culture you emerged from originated; and you must study philosophy and the branch of it called ethics to learn the basic theories to give you rational grounds to examine and judge better ideas from worse, better interpretations from worse, and how to make better choices over worse.

 

This itself will not make you moral, but it will put you miles ahead of most people and give you fresh eyes to see the world.  It will instill within you a tendency for a healthy skepticism for slick claims and manipulation.  It is the beginning of being an effective and responsible human and citizen.

 

The rest of it is up to you and your choices and how open you are to hearing others’ perspectives and integrating them into your own and keeping a check on your own prejudices.  It is up to you to learn to expand your world to be more inclusive, though selective, and to walk a reasonable balance between these.

 

Being ethical is a skill, like driving a car.  It is the skill of building a good human life and, like driving, not just any actions will yield the results you need.  Learning to want what you truly need and looking for that in your limitations instead of just “wanting” things without an understanding of your full needs as a human is itself a skill.

 

Skills, once practiced enough and worried over enough become transparent we just begin to perform them as “second nature,” as Aristotle once said.  You no more think about all the steps in driving a car while driving than a good person is consciously thinking about all the things involved in living well.  No, the only two times that happens is when we make a mistake and snap into awareness or we, in the luxury of contemplation, review and revise what it is we do in light of new experience — our own or that we’ve heard from others.

 

Hence, we must be open to hearing from others, alive and dead.

 

Form bad habits, poor skills, skills for manipulation, cleverness, become locked up in “your own personal experience,” as limited as it is, and you will fall into selfishly motivated disasters as sure as a poor driver causes wrecks and Jeffery Skilling and Ken Lay wasted billions of investors’ dollars and years of other peoples’ lives who worked for them based on promises that were lies.

 

I gave you the shadow of a beginning here.  I suggested a direction and have told you what you, on your own, as responsible adults must study on your own to truly advance and lead, be examples not followers looking for someone to exploit them.

 

People in college exert themselves beyond the curricula of any particular course: Course work begins to teach you how to think, not what to think, no matter how strongly an instructor accents some content over others.  Figuring out the true values you need to live up to, ultimately, is your choice.  And you must choose and will choose, regardless (that’s our common fate) – I just hope it is in such manner that you learn how to transform even curses to blessings, not the other way around, and bring some measure of peace into your lives and those around you.

 

The future needs you and it is yours, not mine, to make.  Choose your path well.

 

22 January 2016

Mr. Ingram

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Sometimes.

“If you see something that looks like a star
And it’s shooting up out of the ground
And your head is spinning from a loud guitar
And you just can’t escape from the sound
Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys
And the thing that you’re hearing is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“If you had just a minute to breathe
And they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance?
Or something sim’lar as this?
Don’t worry too much It’ll happen to you
As sure as your sorrows are joys
And the thing that disturbs you is only the sound of
The low spark of high-heeled boys

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
While you’re living beyond all your means
And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he’s made on your dreams
But today you just read that the man was shot dead
By a gun that didn’t make any noise
But it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest, was
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)

“If I gave you everything that I owned
And asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you?
Or take me for a ride
And strip me of everything, including my pride —
But spirit is something that no one destroys
And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
The low spark of high-heeled boys (heeled boys)”

TRAFFIC

“The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”

Sometimes.

Sometimes is a bad location in the terrain of life; it is in my case.  It’s the ever-shifting space not on any map — suddenly, one arrives upon it and has no idea how long it must be endured.  It is an occasion of indefinite duration that may immediately be followed by another… and then another.  Or one may traverse it and not encounter such again for quite awhile.

How many times a day did Voltaire contemplate throwing his quills out the window, do you suppose?  How many days did this happen in a lifetime?  Physically, he could have gotten by perfectly well without writing a revolution into being — especially not knowing whether there’d be any revolution or not at the time.  Lacemakers gave him income; writing made him trouble.

But once a year on the anniversary of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, he became violently ill without fail, ran a fever, vomited, had to take to bed for a space.  All because the utter injustice and hate of it ate away at him so badly and his conscience was such that he suffered for the dead in his own flesh.

So, back to the quills and ink.  Like it or not.

He was a man of good, high spirits not often given to fits of melancholia; instead, his bile came forth as bouquets of wit and satire.  Right and wrong, it was beautiful and effective.

The temptation to quit all his creative activities or hide them away never seemed to be part of his life — his “sometimes” came in the form of having to escape the censors and the crown by fleeing to Switzerland.  A dangerous but adventuresome sometimes that at least let him know: “Voltaire, you are one effective son of a bitch.”

I am no Voltaire.  Yes, I become physically ill when wars erupt — I ran a 104 degree fahrenheit fever during the debate over the first Gulf War after protesting it with the Quakers and became so sick I wound up at the hospital.  The whole thing, as a memory, is hallucinatory and terrible: I felt to my depths that this was the beginning of a string of horrors for humanity.  And so it was though I could do nothing about it but lie in a bed of torment for a couple of weeks.

My art turned more political after that and my writing often the same until I became a lone voice crying in the wilderness during George W. Bush’s administration — in a small Appalachian town, I wrote lead-heavy long essays for the county’s only newspaper, the only weapon of protest I had to oppose illegal domestic spying, torture, kidnapping, lying, our soldiers being sent to die for Halliburton, human beings — as vicious as some were — redefined legally to the point they were outside the possibility of due process.

Hatred, in the main, was my repayment.  That and $10.00 a pop for the privilege of penning those 5 and 6 page essays every couple of months.  But all that’s external and insignificant: I had to bear witness to the times and use my small voice to say what someone more important should have been saying from the floor of the Senate.  My own conscience would not let me throw my pens out the window.  Maybe that’s why Voltaire never threw his own.

People think it’s my paranoia acting up like a bout of rheumatism, but I swear to you at the height of my writing, the last two years of nearly six years as a freelancer at that paper, all my mail arrived in the box pre-opened.  Was it angry locals at the post office trying to dig up dirt?  Was it the FBI not even bothering to cover their tracks anymore?  (After all, who was I going to call: The FBI?)  All I know, once I was banned from writing for the paper — yes, that happened — my mail was fine thereafter.

That was one of those “sometimes” I felt so defeated I considered just quitting.  I had no platform to speak to the community; some people who were very friendly  to me when I was infamous quit and wouldn’t even do me the grace of saying “hello” when face-to-face; the invitations to come over and discuss ideas failed to arrive anymore.  In short, I was shut down and shut up.

A friend let me begin putting essays and art on a page in his popular website… but it was mainly an exercise in keeping me busy, not gaining readers.  Too broke to get my own site — like this one — no one knew to read it except by word of mouth.  I couldn’t advertise it in the sole paper in the county: That cost money and I’m unsure the ad would have been accepted.  Decline followed and depression as I am melancholic.

I got letters and e-mails now and again from people who said I spoke for them because they were afraid to say anything, or that something I’d said touched them, or to keep up the fight.  Those were good moments, but I rarely responded; I had no words for praise and barely knew what to do with it.  I’m not used to such.  Abuse, yes — that I can do something with; sincere praise and agreement — that’s shocking and frightening, perversely enough.

Someone standing by me and fighting the fight would have been nice, or at least people writing their own ideas, even more moderate, and picking up where I fell would be good.  I was replaced in the paper by a high school girl who wrote columns about the trials and tribulations of being a teenager.  God bless her for at least putting herself out there and getting something in print and her $10.00 a week.  She made more than I did overall for her efforts and it looked good on the college applications. And the people had their wholesome sweet nothings to not bother their consciences — a must for every editorial page.

But it truly made me wonder why I’d bothered in the first place.

The years passed, I mostly moved on, physically if not entirely in spirit.  Loss of my job with insurance, cut-backs in the number of lectures I had at the local university due to underfunding the state educational budget, loss of my marriage… then, I moved to Texas.  Georgia, except for my son and friends who barely speak to me anymore, has nothing but very bad memories for me.

Here, I got to work trying to make comic books and eventually to lecture again, and I do both and attempt to sell some art.  But now, a few years after all the aforementioned,  I’ve wandered into one of those “sometimes.”  I’ll hit 50 in a couple of weeks and Americans have some sort of psychic time-bomb that goes off each birthday ending with a zero.  But 50 is a half-century and 50 is easily more than half my potential lifetime on planet Earth.  In fact, my life could easily be over with at any minute I have so many chronic illnesses and a major mental illness with an average 30% fatality rate.  Manic depression is a hard thing to live with, especially when the tension and pressure becomes intense and all these thoughts of failure and stupidity come boiling up.

I’m becoming too tired to write anymore and I imagine this is tiresome to read if you’ve made it this far.  50 years.  I did not do much damage or accomplish much, really.  My work is uneven, my art difficult to look at, my underground comix are appreciated by other artists and that’s about it — not nothing, but not the popular audience I was looking to speak to, either.  If I last a little longer, maybe more people will read.  Maybe not.  If I last a little longer, some gang of misfits might decide my art is inspirational or speaks to them — who knows?  If I keep writing, I am at least a writer and spreading ideas… then again, I’m unpaid and have no idea whether actual humans are looking at this and not “robots” and webcrawlers.

And my students: some benefit, some don’t; some resist and just don’t care, say so openly, and act as if, because they are “paying customers,” they have arrived at Burger King College where they can say and do as they please and “have it their way.”  The others — I have no clue.  We rarely do: Teachers do their best to plant seeds that might sprout years down the road in their students’ lives and must be content with that, content with having planted better seeds than worse.

As a philosopher… I don’t know and don’t even wish to hazard a guess.  Philosophy, thank God, has kept me alive and given me guidance through Hell several times.  Including the Hell of “sometimes.”  Maybe I gave a good example if anyone noticed.  You never know.

You never know.

16 January 2016

Richard Van Ingram

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What I’d Do With $1.5 Billion…

That’s what they call a “hook” — that title, I mean.  Everyone sees the money sign and goes completely mad: It grabs the attention, the heart races, dreams and visions float before one’s eyes.  Or does it?

I play the lottery in America when the numbers get to the point of absurdity.  Why not?  Sure, I have my fantasies of what to do with more money than humans ought to have: I tell myself I’d endow several chairs of philosophy at my favorite schools, chairs for teaching Stoicism as a practical approach to contemporary ethics , and chairs in the philosophy of Ortega y Gasset.  Leave behind an educational legacy.  Fund the Ortega Institute in Spain.  That sort of thing.

I’d leave behind scholarships for creative people, not necessarily the top grade-earners, but the ones who were rebellious, didn’t fit in worth a damn, but were intelligent and who write the best essays as to what they would try to make of themselves with a liberal arts education.

I’d establish trust funds for my son, step-daughter, and step-son.  The idea would be they’d be able to do something decent with their lives and not be enslaved to the capitalist system anymore.  And pay medical bills.

I’d pay off the student loans… hell, I’d pay off a number of people’s student loans, people who work in fields that make no money and involve service and creativity.  Why not?

And pay my own medical bills.  Get some decent insurance.

I’d buy a printing company and publish the works of artists, writers, journalists, political cartoonists, and commentators and pay them a very decent wage to raise hell and investigate and attack every sort of hypocrisy and injustice one could lay hands on in the United States.  And never worry one damn minute about ever turning a profit — only beginning social and cultural change for the better and that’s it.

Give enough money to all my friends so that they could pursue their dreams… or have time to invent some.  Tell them to go forth and do good works and see what they come up with.  I have some faith they could do some damage of a positive sort and leave behind their own legacies.

Me, I’d teach and make art.  Make more art than I can now and maybe teach less, but donate the pay into scholarship funds for the most needy at the school I teach at.

Establish an endowment for the Scottish Rite Valley of San Antonio that would perpetually pay the upkeep of the cathedral and even repair it; donate enough for the Scottish Rite Hospitals and St. Jude’s to make a real difference; establish another for my mother lodge, Perfect Union #10 with one string attached — if any brother Mason or his family is ever in need, all of their bills are to be paid, no questions asked.  I’d leave enough in the fund so that it couldn’t reasonably be exhausted.

Make an endowment to the temple I wish to attend so that education and passing down the Reform Jewish tradition would never have a financial stumbling block in its way here.

Make sizable contributions to the ACLU and NAACP — I’m members of both, but it would be nice to see their war chests well-stocked for the foreseeable future.

See that many independent comic book artists got their work published, good, bad, indifferent — I don’t care.  Flood the market with stories and new visions, not collectibles and not digital comics, but real, paper comics that can be passed around in low-tech areas surreptitiously and distribute them far and wide in many languages.  Chinese, Hindi, and North Korean might be nice.  They can have any profits to make more books and live.  What the hell?

And while were on North Korea, surely I could smuggle some people out of that slave pit?  Give them a chance at a life.

Oh, my laundry list goes on like that for a long while.  But I’m not going to win $1.5 billion and it may be a good thing I wouldn’t.  Money corrupts people.  I’m not certain I do a good job managing the little I have now — expand that exponentially overnight and I might become a monstrosity.  Who knows?  All blessings are potential curses if you allow them to rule you and not you them.  Likewise, all curses can be parlayed into some sort of small blessing if one masters the situation and oneself.  I’ve lived long enough and seen enough to know this is truth, or a glimpse of it.

So there it is.  Not soured grapes, but a caution to myself:  Do good regardless; be the person I am supposed to be, broke or a billion dollars in the black.  The money doesn’t matter as much as who I make myself through what I value and what I do.  The same goes for you.

13 January 2016

Richard Van Ingram

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A Letter to My Students, December 2015

It’s that time again, the one where I share the letter I wrote my students last month. The usual disclaimer is this: I don’t share it out of pride but because maybe the words might carry some meaning for someone and it records where I and my students were as of last week, the end of our compressed semester together. I already miss most of my students, as I usually do — but I have a new set of people and a different class to teach next week and I do look forward to that. Change, like a very few other things, is constant and to be expected and accepted. So, without further ado, the letter for December 2015:

“One of the great things about teaching is that I meet many people from a variety of backgrounds that, otherwise, I would not know. Each of your perspectives, insofar as you choose to share it with me through class and discussion, gives me a broader view of the world – each of your sets of eyes have seen things I will never personally experience directly, just as mine have seen things you will never directly experience. Together, by sharing, we have the opportunity to widen and enrich our own notions of what the world and life are like and can be: Life, your life, my life, the life of each end every one of us must be lived by ourselves, alone, yet, paradoxically, my life includes the people I meet and the ideas and beliefs of the many, many who came before us all and yet influence us, even in the resonance of their actions. People we may know by name and a vast number we never will in this life, if ever.

“So, I always tell my students, I learn more from you than you ever learn from me in many, many ways – which, again, is the benefit of my calling as a philosopher and as a teacher. I learn to question again and again my positions, my choices, the complexity of the world I may have ignored, details I need to make room for and explain – or just accept. Teaching affords me the opportunity and necessity of having a bit of humility and exploring the limits as well as the extent of my own learning and theories, ethical and otherwise. Over time, I have learned to be more merciful and more tolerant than I began, which is good, and more open, more effective, and to take each person as they arrive in my life and open myself to learning from them.

“I hope I have given you that example simply by how I act – the only “sermons” that count for anything in this world are our actions. No, I am no paragon of virtue, not an example of the most moral person one could hope to be; I have my flaws and failings. Yet, I strive. I reach, most days to be better at being, becoming myself more and more, a bit at a time, to become someone good for others, my world, and, in the process, myself.

“That is the ethic I’ve shown and taught, the ethic of being resilient and trying to live up to standards of excellence in dealing with oneself, others, and the world. Of course, this entails work, which is part of life, and each of you have chosen a field where it is imperative that you are trustworthy, stable – someone who cares and can be counted on to recognize each person as a person in need of your care, someone who takes people, each person and their needs, seriously and does not see them as numbers, dollar signs, diseases, and so forth…. Even if you never meet them and only experience them as diagnostic codes and charges flying by on a computer screen.

“Remember, people are more than that, just as you are and I am. There is a secret life and beautifully important things each of those people have to contribute, a work each is here to do and they are irreplaceable. You are irreplaceable. You must recognize that and develop a sense of mission, destiny, and make that your life’s work: to improve what can be improved and to guide what can be guided in all your living moments, as long as you can with as much intensity as you can muster.

“This month’s classes – by which I mean my students – have inspired a measure of hope in me for the future that, sometimes, people do not inspire within me. There is a tendency to pessimism in my constitution because of the history I know and the history I have lived through and witnessed. These are bizarre times. If they are to improve, if the future I will not live to see, but you will, and your children and their children, is to be improved, it will be because of your choices, because of whom you choose to become and the degree of effort you put into creating yourself and influencing your surroundings by your life. You get to choose a portion of the future in how you raise children, in voting, in being a good citizen, in doing your work well, in choosing reasonably, in recognizing your abilities and limitations and making the absolute best of them. Together. That is how all of us got here in the strange world we have now – people in the recent past, in the majority, did you no favors in how they haphazardly and selfishly made themselves and history.

“That is no excuse to lie down and give up or give minimal effort, worry about “you and yours,” to hell with everyone else. You have the privilege of a college education which means you will have the responsibility to lead and make decisions in whatever your station in life. So decide and act and do it with excellence. All of you are capable of it; some of you already do it to a degree; all of you have been through terrible things and come out the other side. Now, make things around you so people do not have to go through the same trials. Make a better world beginning with where you are and who you are. Have an openness to others and show some care in your actions, and care for yourselves.

“Care for yourselves at least as intensely as your instructor does because I teach because I do care. It is the best thing I can do. You will do your work in the medical field and will go as far within it as you try, even against any obstacles that block your path. Push through or at least push and have a measure of belief in your dream. Help one another and ask for help. Do not give up – you are being counted on.

“And that is my final word to you for this month. Think on it for what it is worth. I will see you in the future which always arrives surprisingly soon.

“Mr. Ingram” (December 2015)

Richard Van Ingram

2 January 2015

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