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Every Now and Again You Find Inspiration; This is Mine

April 30, 2011

This is a call to the living,
To those who refuse to make peace with evil,
With the suffering and the waste of the world.

This is a call to the human, not the perfect,
To those who know their own prejudices,
Who have no intention of becoming prisoners of their own limitations.

This is a call to those who remember the dreams of their youth,
Who know what it means to share food and shelter,
The care of children and those who are troubled,
To reach beyond barriers of the past
Bringing people to communion.

This is a call to the never-ending spirit
Of the common man, his essential decency and integrity,
His unending capacity to suffer and endure,
To face death and destruction and to rise again
And build from the ruins of life.

This is the greatest call of all
The call to a faith in people.

-Algernon D. Black


Endangered Animals and Japan

April 23, 2011

We treat human tragedies the same way we treat endangered animals. We are much more apt to save the whales, Bengal tigers and panda bears than we are an Aberdare Mole Shrew, the Red Barbed ant, and the olm. The more romantic and obvious it is to help, the more likely we are to throw resources at the cause.

But what about the littler animals, the less obvious cause (to our hierarchical world, at least).

We stopped hearing about the earthquake in Haiti. Does that mean everything’s okay there? Obvious answer for anyone who knows anything about anything is ‘no.’ So why all the attention for Japan?! What makes Japanese people more important than Haitians, or for that matter, Somalians, Zimbabweans, or Cambodians. Now don’t get the impression that I’m saying that the Japanese are by any means less important- all I’m saying is that a tragedy is a tragedy is a tragedy. And by the same token, a person is a person is a person. It’s not fair or just or moral (if you adhere to such rules) to treat people differently based solely upon their ancestry. If you prefer to go by the Bible or some other Holy Book, I’m pretty sure God, Yawhe, Allah, and the Buddah all agree that humanity needs to take care of humanity (and all other the little critters, too). This doesn’t mean selecting whoever you feel like to take care of. It means treating the Jihad of the Middle East, the oppressed of sub-Saharan Africa and the refugees of natural disasters all over the world the same. No one is more important than anyone else.

Light Conversation

April 4, 2011

I found myself at a friend’s house last Monday night.  If he ever reads this, he’ll know it’s him.  Now under normal circumstances, I would never bring up the topic of religion, but I happen to have recently learned that this individual is steadfast in his belief in Christianity.  And on this particular evening, er, early morning, a pitcher of Blue Moon gave me the inquisitiveness to brazenly asked him why he believed in God, Jesus, the Bible, and other such things.  He asked me a series of questions to which my responses were ‘but why does that make rational sense?’ until we got to the Big Bang.  This is the outer limit of my sphere of understanding.  And it was this topic (among a few others) which brought me to question my religious beliefs in the first place.  It is more comfortable to push something that I can’t understand away.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  …wrong…? At any rate, it’s an issue I’m going to have to come to terms with at some point.  Either I’ll affirm my beliefs and be resolute in them, or I’ll denounce them entirely and be content with being agnostic.

Until that point comes, I suppose I’ll continue to ask about his beliefs, etc. until I either figure out where I stand, or until he gets sick of me.

The picture I posted here is quite possibly the closest I’ve ever come to having a religious experience.  I took it at Port Salut in Haiti.  Thus far, it’s my favorite place in the world.  But this is subject to change (especially since my summer plans span 4 continents. WIN)

The Gift (or Curse) of Ancestry

March 31, 2011

Yesterday I read an article (White Privilege by Peggy McIntosh about what it actually means to be a white woman.  Really struck a chord for me.  I used to think of myself as a decent humanitarian–and I guess for the most part, I still do… but a few things about what she had to say really rattled me.  (If you read the article and you’re anything like me then you’ll know what I mean.)  I thought I was this super altruistic person who wanted to stick it to the man in every way possible: redefine stereotypes, defy the norm, embrace the un-embraced, save the world, un-Americanize myself.  But when I read the list of what it actually means for me to be who I am, at least outwardly, I realized that maybe I don’t actually want to give up all that comes with being a white female American.

I am a WASP (white anglo-Saxon protestant, for those of you not up on the lingo) who was born in the USA.  The power to command any room I walk into was given to me at birth (which I have compounded with my E-type personality to really amplify my birth-given ‘right’).  It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to a room full of my roommate’s Indian friends or to the man who eradicated Smallpox, no one will ever dismiss me for being a white female (that’s not to say they won’t flee from me for another reason).

I have been asked since I can remember ‘what I want to be when I grow up,’ because truth be told, I can be (and always could be) anything I want regardless of my parents’ careers or the education (and tuition) required.

People will always equate me to wealth, prosperity and opportunity.  They will look up to me; they will assume (if only subconsciously) that I have ample resources to distribute.

I don’t necessarily want to give up all of the things that come with being who I am.  Does that make me a bad person? At first I thought it made me fake, but then I realized that it just makes me real, human.

If I have children (when I grow up), they will have the same opportunities that I had.  What will make my precious darlings any different from the precious darlings sitting on the disintegrating dock in Les Cays, Haiti? The fact that they will be born with me as their mom.

This isn’t fair and I don’t like it.  But a friend pointed out that it is possible to use these attributes to drive more action and bring about more change.  So I think I’ll do that.

Don’t Think Zebras

March 25, 2011

Sometimes things aren’t what we think they are. For example, take Rebecca Black’s chart-topping, smash-hitting, aurally-painful song ‘Friday’. Upon first hearing the single, a listener might assume it’s a ‘breezy pop song,’ but you would be mistaken! In fact, it delves into the issues of consumerism, foreign policy and the economy (see for yourself: Rebecca Black discloses hidden meaning). Ha, yeah right.

Sometimes things are exactly what you think they are. Here again, I present you with an example: a vodka soda. This drink says, ‘Hey, I’m gonna take like vodka and I’m gonna taste like soda–I’m not gonna pretend to be a torched cherry in the hopes that you’ll choose me over my flashy peers. I’m simple, to the point, and not gonna leave you all sorts of unhappy in the morning.’

Basically what I’m saying is that before jumping to some extravagant conclusions about what something is, perhaps take a moment to consider all the possibilities. When you hear hoofbeats, it could just be horses. Don’t first think zebras. Sometimes the simplest answer is actually the right one.


Left Brained by Nature and by Nurture

December 15, 2010

Creativity is not exactly my strong suit; ask me to write a lab report or analyze data—now that’s in my comfort zone.

It seems there are as many colleges and universities as there are stars in the sky and with all of the options for science degrees, it amazes me more students do not find the same passion for science that I have. During the time that I have been in college, a number of my fellow science enthusiasts have moved on to various other areas of study, leaving science and all its components at the opposite end of the spectrum. I expect, as classes progress, the balance will continue to tip and more people will transfer out of science programs than transfer in.

But for those who have not found their niche yet, look this way: science might be your calling.

I have been steadfast in my love of science since I was a child, soaking up everything from science class like a blonde-haired braces-wearing sponge. Fourth grade homework, which might have included learning the different ecosystems or fish life cycles usually ended with me listening to my dad, a trained marine and molecular biologist turned cancer scientist, telling me about the estuarine environments of Fundulus heterclitus, or some other such topic. I was enamored by my own science superhero. To this day we play this game where I call him and rant off some obscure fact about some rare fungus I learned about in class and he responds, ‘oh yah, the Saccharomyces cerevisiae is one of the most important cultured fungi.’ One day I will tell him something he does not know.

Growing up in a house so affluent in science (Mom just as sciency as Dad), I knew early on that I was going to end up on a career path similar to that of one if not both of my parents. Perhaps there is a genetic component that predisposes certain individuals to be more left-brained. More importantly, I believe how science is perceived at an early age affects how kids-turned-adults feel about it later on. I always enjoyed learning the random facts my dad rambled off concerning whatever I was learning about in class and perhaps that led to my choice of making a career out of the life sciences. Either way, it is what it is. Can’t fight it.

Decently Conflicted

April 7, 2009

So this weekend is Easter weekend. Every Easter there is the Egg Roll on the White House lawn. I love that as a country, we still can celebrate Easter in such a public way. I feel like religion gets pushed so far away from American culture that not only do people not publicly celebrate religious holidays, but they resent them.

A fair proportion of religious people actually scares me. I am not good with any large group of people all doing the exact same thing- it’s very cult-like to me. Anyways, two years ago, my youth group went to Puerto Rico for a work camp. We met up with four other groups from around the country. I never realized how relaxed my church was until I saw these other kids doing prayer circles and balling their eyes out because they suddenly feel saved. That was eye-opening.

I’m decently conflicted on the matter. One the one hand, I think religion should be a relatively private thing, but on the other hand, I want people to appreciate religion as a driving force for moral conduct and personal reflection. I have a friend who is apathetic towards all religions (her parents were raised Catholic but no longer practice) yet she wears a cross necklace everyday. A cross is not just an aesthetically pleasing shape—it is tightly associated with Christianity and Jesus and I feel that if you are going to wear it, you should probably believe in it to some extent. Another friend of mine is a steadfast atheist but she jokes about being Jewish. She says she looks Jewish because she has a nig nose and dark hair but she constantly vocalizes how stupid she thinks the idea of heaven and hell are as well as Jesus dying on the cross. Because she considers herself “Jewish,” she has a menorah sticker on the back of her phone. My best friend back home is Jewish and every time this girl says anything derogatory about Judaism I just wonder how one of my closest friends would feel having her religion mocked. I certainly don’t want anyone to push their views on me so I try to not push mine on other people, but something about it just rubs me the wrong way I guess.

I definitely have my fair share of problems with the Bible and some of the stories in it and the views Fundamentalists and steadfast Christians have, but I am resolute in the parts I believe in. As a scientist, I find it difficult to fathom a way in which all the pieces lined up in a specific way so that life could form. Learning about diseases and disorders, it is a miracle more of us don’t have 3 legs and 17 co-infections. I attribute this to some form of being beyond what I will ever understand. This isn’t necessarily a fatherly figure and I do not pray to Him/It/Whatever it is every night asking him to help me ace my chemistry exam (although my mom would be very disappointed to know this). I’m not sure just how far this divine influence extends, nor am I sure of the divine plan some people claim we all fit into. These are things I will have to figure out as my education continues and as I progress in my life as a scientist and maybe later as a mother.

My dad is pretty devoted, though not in a loud and obnoxious way. But he does read the Bible periodically and reads nonfiction books about the history of Christianity and Judaism. He is educated in his religion. His choice to be Christian was a rational one that is enforced by logic and reasoning. This is the type of Christian I want to be.

Oh and by the way, tonight’s the start of Passover.