Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce Director Romeo Cruz will provide a weekly column to the Beat, featuring items and announcements of interest to the community.
Every morning I open the door and let my dog Bleu out. He waits, tail wagging, for the chance to sample the smells and sights that await him in our yard. He patrols the fence line, learning everything he can about what happened while he was away. It's beautiful to see him run, his paws kick up bits of grass and dried leaves. He runs for the sheer joy of it. His joy becomes my joy as I watch him. I see him, and all dogs, as the embodiment of joy, something we as humans desperately need more of. Dogs can teach us about happiness, forgiveness and gratitude. There are some traits that dogs have that we probably should leave to them, like peeing on trees and rolling around in foul-smelling substances. But there are many that warrant emulation as well.
Dogs seek out the new and unfamiliar. Dogs love nothing more than to follow an interesting scent. What if we gave ourselves permission to explore and discover the way dogs do naturally? We might find new interests or discover a new way of looking at the world or even find a new approach to a business problem. Leaving ourselves open to new experiences, as dogs do, will certainly enrich our lives. Yes, there is the possibility that doing this will lead to a face full of porcupine quills or the occasional spray from a skunk, but there's no reward without accepting some risk.
In 1848, John Marshall reached into the tailrace of the lumber mill he was building and changed history. He realized that the shiny metal he'd pulled from the water was gold, and with that, the Gold Rush was on. Between 1849 and 1853, 300,000 people streamed eastward across the Plains and over the oceans, searching for a small piece of the California dream. Most didn't find it, at least not in the gold fields. Mining gold was dangerous, labor intensive, and usually unsuccessful. One who did find his fortune was a German immigrant named Levi Strauss. But Strauss never set foot in a gold mine or picked up a shovel.
We've all heard the old chestnut "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." It's a fine sentiment; finding the positive in any situation is generally good practice. But if we look closely, we'll find a much deeper meaning in those words, one that we tend to gloss over. Perhaps it's just easier to shake our heads and wish for something a little more original. Or it could be that the truth rooted in the old saying might make us a little uncomfortable. It demands a little more effort and doesn't come with a guarantee of reward. Yet, in its own wonderfully subtle fashion, that tired old cliché becomes a fresh new recipe for success.
There is a lot of talk about how we are a nation divided, as if this was some new wrinkle in the fabric of history. It doesn't take much research to conclude that the notion of unity has always been more of a lofty goal than a reality. Since the founding of our country, we've always been divided. Even the colonies themselves were founded for different reasons. Plymouth was founded by people seeking a place where they could worship God the way they wanted to. Georgia was founded as an alternative to debtor's prison in England, and later evolved into a place where the poor could go to start a new life. Jamestown was a commercial enterprise. The reasons for coming were as varied as those who came. Puritans and Pennsylvania Germans, aristocratically minded Virginia families, Nantucket fishermen, Connecticut farmers and Maine woodsmen all had a place here, eking out a living in a time when even the next meal was not altogether a certainty. Add to that the native people, free blacks, indentured servants, and of course, those afflicted by the scourge of slavery, and the result is a tapestry of people with different aspirations, dreams, and ways of living.
When we think of July 4th, we think of fireworks, barbecues, baseball, picnics, flags, and parades. This is exactly what John Adams envisioned. He envisioned it not for July 4th, but for July 2nd, because that was the date that the colonies ceased to be colonies and became free and independent states as set forth in the Declaration of Independence.
In early July of 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies were locked in a bitter discussion on the question of independence. Jefferson had completed the Declaration, and the alterations suggested by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, among others, had been adopted. The question before Congress was this: Is America part of Britain, or is it a separate entity, capable of governing itself? Do we have the courage and fortitude to break away from Britain and stand on our own?
Most of the representatives had come to the conclusion that America was no longer politically bound to the government of Great Britain. There were a few however, who were opposed. John Dickinson, a representative from Pennsylvania, believed that war, the inevitable consequence of voting for independence, would be worse for the country than retaining its ties to Britain. He and his fellow delegate, Robert Morris, prevented the Pennsylvania delegation from supporting independence. But the tide had turned, and Dickinson knew that he was in the minority. He and Morris could have held up the vote for independence indefinitely, which would have only served to make the Congress irrelevant.
In March of 1861, newly inaugurated president Abraham Lincoln had a difficult choice to make. His electoral victory had been slim; he didn't garner a single vote in the South, and many of the southern states had taken his election as a reason to leave the Union completely. The country was divided into armed camps, with war on the horizon.
With the looming prospect of war occupying his thoughts, Lincoln had to decide who would head up the various departments in his fledgling cabinet. The State Department, the War Department, the Treasury Department, and even the Post Office had no leadership with the departure of James Buchanan's administration. Even in 1861, the demands of the Presidency were too numerous for one person, and so Lincoln was faced with the task of filling his ranks.
He could have rewarded his supporters with Cabinet positions, which is a common practice, even today. It would have been quite easy for Lincoln to have simply brought along those who already agreed with him. Perhaps, it would have made those difficult first days a little easier to have men who already admired and respected him in positions of power.
But that wasn't what Lincoln did.
There was once a man caught in a terrible flood. Clinging to a piece of wood, he prayed to God. "Lord," he said, "Please save me from this flood, and I will faithfully serve you." As he drifted through the raging floodwaters, the wood that held him above water could no longer hold him up, and so he abandoned the wood and began to swim.
"God will save me," the man said. The water was cold, and he was tired, but he swam on. He heard a voice cry out, "I've thrown a rope! Grab it and I will pull you to safety!" But the man said, "No, I am all right. God will save me." And he swam on, right past the rope.
Now the cold began to seep into his muscles, and every stroke became a labor. A woman on a kayak paddled near him and said, "Hold on to my kayak, and I will tow you to safety!" But the man refused. "No, I'm all right. God will save me." The woman begged him to grab hold, but eventually he drifted away from her, and she was lost in the driving rain.
Although airlines still employ pilots, a lot of the work of flying a commercial aircraft is done with an automated flight system, known to most of us as an autopilot. Unlike the one famously portrayed in the movie "Airplane!" the autopilot does not feature an inflatable man in a pilot's uniform. It's a small, highly advanced piece of equipment that uses global positioning, weather data, and other factors to determine the safest, most efficient route to a given destination. On most days, 45,000 flights arrive safely, attesting to the effectiveness of these systems.
The human brain is much more advanced than an autopilot system, but the two have a great deal in common. Our brains are wired to create routine, so much so that we often go about our days on our own form of autopilot. This isn't just conjecture – studies on the brain have demonstrated that our brains build neural pathways for everyday activities. Creating strong neural pathways in the brain are vital to survival. They make certain activities, such as driving a car or getting dressed, easy enough to accomplish without much thought. Imagine if you had to use the same amount of attention to unlock your front door as you would to solve a differential equation. Strong neural pathways allow us to turn our attention to matters of great significance without giving up our ability to accomplish everyday tasks. It seems like the best of both worlds.