Saturday, October 28, 2017

Scenes from a Changing World

Waves of change wash over our planet daily. Even here in Orlando the backwash of those waves are beginning to lap up on our shores as can be seen in these events from the past three days.  

Scene 1: Sonny’s Barbeque.

As I sit awaiting my lunch, a young female server brings two plates heaped to the brim with pulled pork, beans and French fries to the table in front of me. She is about to set them down on the table in front of the two young Muslim men, students at the nearby Full Sail technological college.

Their expression quickly indicates that this would be a big mistake.

“Did I get your order wrong?” she asks cheerfully. “We ordered chicken,” the one curtly replied.

The waitress walks away, plates still in hand, looking puzzled. These guys acted like I had insulted them just because I got their order wrong.

She generally doesn’t get that reaction from the fire fighters and police officers who frequent this place.

She has no idea what halal and haram means. But they do. And if she is going to remain in this business in a country where Muslims now outnumber Episcopalians, she will need to learn. 

Our world is changing.

Scene 2: Lake Underhill Drive

I’m returning from the Home Depot with newly purchased plants and pots. I want to get home to get my gardening done before the rain begins.

There is a black SUV with tinted windows ahead of me. It comes to a stop at the point where Lake Underhill Drive dead ends into Palmer Street. One has to go either right or left on Palmer. It is free of traffic.

I wait.

After 30 seconds or so, I figure the driver is distracted and touch my horn. No response. I beep again, this time a bit more emphatically.

No response.

I back up and begin to drive around the car, half irritated, half concerned that I might encounter a driver having some kind of medical emergency.

There in the front seat sits a woman my age, texting away, completely oblivious to where she is or the fact she is holding up other drivers. 

She never looks up. 

She is busy feeding her addiction.

Indeed, the addiction to communications technology in our culture by far exceeds the opioid crisis our pharmaceutical industry has fostered in its pervasiveness and its potential seriousness.

Texting while driving is only a secondary offense in Florida and cannot be the primary reason an officer stops a driver even as the insurance industry now reports that texting while driving is much more likely to result in accidents than driving under the influence of alcohol.

Thus far, there is no  pressure group equivalent to Mothers Against Drunk Driving crying out to regulate driving distracted by technology. And the communications industry lobbyists have paid our state legislature and governor quite handsomely to turn a blind eye to the dangers  of this addiction. As Upton Sinclair noted a century ago, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

But how many drivers will continue to patiently wait while the oblivious texter carries on their conversation without erupting into angry violence? And at what point will we admit we’ve made a serious error in judgment in acquiescing to this culture of addiction? Will it be too late?

Our world is changing. 

But is it for the better?

Scene 3: Miller’s Ale House

The elevated tables next to our booth in the outdoor seating section are full of middle aged Latino men talking and drinking from pitchers of beer. There are empty seats awaiting arriving guests.

Within minutes, a group of men and women enter and the energy level in the room leaps several notches. Amidst joyful greetings complete with kisses and hugs, the group sits down together and begins an animated conversation. From my best Spanish (which is hardly fluent on a good day) I am able to overhear snippets of conversation: lots of trees down everywhere; no power; everyone is OK but they have no water.

These friends and family are among the thousands who have arrived from Puerto Rico this week, fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Maria and the ongoing misery of its aftermath, bearing news of loved ones left behind. The local Boricuas are delighted to see them, relieved to know they are OK. And the new arrivals are clearly happy to be out of the suffering they have endured on this isle of enchantment in which three quarters of its residents languish without power a month after a killer hurricane.

My guess is that a good number of these visitors will remain. Many have left destroyed homes. Most have no jobs to return to at businesses that no longer exist. They have come to begin new lives on the mainland.

Florida and the US will never be the same.

This is the vanguard of the waves of climate change refugees who will eventually land on our shores. They follow those who have preceded them in smaller numbers fleeing US wars and economic dislocation through treaties like NAFTA. They arrive in a cultural climate in which immigrants are widely demonized. They will be caricaturized by politicians eager to stoke and manipulate public fear for political gain even as the reasons for their emigration remain largely unexamined.

The coming of the Boricuas, as they call themselves, has been relatively easy. Puerto Rico is an American commonwealth. And their numbers are comparatively small.

But climate change is no respecter of the imaginary lines on the earth’s surface called borders. And as superstorms are charged up by heated oceans and droughts, heat waves and firestorms ravage inland locations, desperate people will do whatever they can to save their families. That includes fleeing their homelands and crossing hostile borders. And it includes enduring vilification in the countries in which they seek refuge. 

Our world is changing. 

How will we respond? 

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)

 © Harry Coverston 2017


1 comment:

Omniryx said...

I agree that as American society becomes more ethnically complex, increased cultural sensitivity is a must for those who interact with the public. That being said, inadvertently and accidentally bringing plates of pork to a pair of Muslims is no justification whatsoever for them to become offensive by word or grimace. They missed a teachable moment.

In New York, the segment of the population that is involved in the largest number of auto accidents, mishaps, and tickets related to cell phone usage are not Millennials or high school kids but middle-aged upper middle class women. I told you, I think, about two Baldwin Park matrons, one in a black Cadillac Escalade the other in a black Hummer, who were so oblivious to the outside world that they rolled head-on into each other in the Baldwin Park Publix parking lot. One had a cell phone in her hand and a cigarette in her mouth, the other had a cell phone in one hand and a coffee in the other hand. I suppose she was driving with her knee.

Postman didn't get it quite right but he wasn't far off, either.