On tearing down mountains and other barriers

Even parts of mountains show effects of Pangea(First published in the Gettysburg Times, 6/7/2013)

A college sociology professor told me the length of human experience is about 50 years. Any longer than that is “the way it’s always been.”

One might argue human experience has been shortening in recent years; we can hear that concept illustrated on the evening news nearly every night, as the latest storm or political catastrophe is declared the worst since time began. Consider that four Americans died in an attack on Benghazi, making it “one of the worst incidents that I can recall,” according former Vice President Dick Cheney.

I’m not arguing whether Benghazi should or should not have happened the way it did, but one would think Cheney had been around long enough to remember how many Marines were killed in 1983 – only 30 years ago – by a suicide bomber in Beirut, Lebanon. The correct answer is 241.

The foregoing grew from a conversation with friends at breakfast this week, and the idea that just to the west of home are mountains much older than 50 years. In fact, some of them are about 300 million years old – though it’s difficult to be exact when dealing with that large a number.

The time coincides with Pangea, when New York crashed into Ireland and, along with the other continents of the time, created a single land mass of that name. The colliding islands pushed and folded their surfaces like two trucks colliding head-on, their bodies forming ripples and valleys down which lubricants and fuels flow in rivulets.

I have a favorite outdoor studio where a rock formation curls and doubles back on itself, forming the visage of an old man of the mountain. Based solely on the pattern of wrinkles, I bet I’m looking at some of that 300-million year old handiwork.

On another time-related front …

Until recently, women were not allowed to serve in active combat roles. We generally preferred they stay home raising the kids while their men-folk were off at war. We pretended being a field nurse or a supply minion in uniform was not a combat mission – though the history books, if we dig deeply enough, record the passing under enemy fire of a plethora of representatives of those non-combat soldiers and sailors.

Which is why when generals were called before Congress this week to discuss why they should not surrender their disciplinary authority over soldiers who sexually assault their fellow warriors, only one of the dozen generals was a woman.

What I remember from my military career was an officer desiring to attain top rank would do well to have graduated from Annapolis or West Point, and must have served in command of a warship. Now that women are allowed in combat roles, we may be moving toward seeing longer hair on some of the generals, but it will take time for the ladies to move through the ranks and be called to sit at a table in front of congressional interrogators.

Mother Nature has been changing things since there were things to change. She’s been shaping planets and modifying plant and animal genes, taking her time, trying minor changes, seeing how they work out. We know it took a very long time to make the mountains, though most of us were not present when it happened. We have taken considerably less time to establish a rank structure that solidifies combat as a manly mission – though long enough we don’t remember anymore why we created the arrangement we’re trying, to varying pleasures, to change.

We humans are impatient. We think 50 years is a long time, except when it comes to promoting collegial relationships among us. Then we think, “What’s the rush.”

I submit we would do well to swap the priorities: speed up the gender equality thing, and slow down the planet destruction thing.

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