Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Prescient, Conflicted Skeptic

Prescience has been on my mind. Prescience, "knowledge of actions or events before they occur; foreknowledge; foresight," is something I have long longed for. I have no desire to be a great seer, but I think it would be nice to look at the options before me and come up with at least a good guess on how events might unfold if I did this, or maybe that.

Well, I got my wish and stumbled into prescience a few weeks ago. A person more wisely prescient than I would have remembered the old saw that warns us to be careful what we wish for; we just might get it. The problem began on August 11. One of the suggested topics Suzanne gave us that day was to write a short piece about ourselves ten years ago and a short piece about ourselves ten years from now. The problem was the latter. Should I assume medical science will find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, and that I will be back to my abnormal self in ten years? Or should I take the more realistic view and assume that even if a cure is found, it will be prohibitively expensive and the Tea Party will be in charge and if the insurance won't pay for it, oh well?

I took the more realistic option, picturing myself as bedridden and totally dependent on others for even the simplest things. And suddenly I was prescient. My legs, which haven't been limber in six years or more, got stiffer than ever. Sitting up on the side of the bed was a little dicey, because I had a difficult time keeping my legs close to the bed, and I felt as if I was about to slide off onto the floor. And as for putting on my socks, forget about it. It's amazing how distant a foot can be when it's at the end of a leg with a knee that won't bend, or once bent won't stay bent. But you can't count on anything these days, and once when I was standing and once while I was attempting to stand, my knees gave way and I crumpled.

By the end of last week, as I was cursing my prescience, things started to improve. We went to Boston, Pennsylvania, a little town near McKeesport, for the weekend, and I woke up Saturday morning feeling better than I had for weeks. I wasn't moving any better than I had been moving early in August, but I was moving much, much, much better than I had been moving the first week in September.

Conflicted is another word I've had on my mind. I don't like the word. It serves a useful purpose in psychology and related fields, I'm sure. But I don't like the sound of it. Still, as I sat on the deck of the bed and breakfast in Boston Saturday morning, I felt conflicted. It was such a beautiful morning; the sun was shining and wisps of clouds hung just below the tops of the wooded hills across the way. A little later, I went to the park along the banks of the Youghiogheny River and was awed by the beauty of the scene. The quiet river, a mirror reflecting the hills along its banks.

I tried to imagine what a person standing there sixty years earlier might have seen: probably not much besides smoke. Not far from Boston, the Youghiogheny flows into the Monongahela River, which was once lined steel mills, one of the world's great industrial areas. Up the Yough thirty or forty miles from Boston is Connellsville, where coal was turned into coke and then shipped to the mills in Pittsburgh. As we started back to Ashtabula Sunday, we passed huge vacant lots that had replaced the steel mills and went through decaying towns that were once made prosperous by the mills. Dad didn't work in a mill, but he was a tax attorney for the US Steel railroads, and the life we enjoyed was a product of those mills. And so there's part of me that thinks it is sad that people a few decades ago would have been more likely to see pollution than beauty when they sat by the river. And there's part of me that thinks it is sad that the great industrial engine in the Mon Valley is now barely sputtering. I guess I'm conflicted.

I'm also skeptical. It happens every Wednesday, which is the day American Profile, a magazine insert, arrives with the Star Beacon. The first thing to catch my eye this week was the picture of Heloise on the cover. "That can't be Heloise," I screamed. "Heloise has got to be at least 110." As it turned out, the picture was of the current Heloise, who is the daughter of the original Heloise. According to the article, the first Heloise died in 1977 at the age of 58. I missed her obituary. And I overshot her age by almost twenty years. Heloise would be a spry 92, not 110.

For a moment I was ashamed of my unwarranted skepticism. Fortunately, a further perusal of American Profile allowed me to feel good again. "The Ask American Profile" feature answers readers' questions about celebrities. The celebrities are always doing well, of course. Some of them had fallen on hard times, committed a few unspeakable crimes and consumed all manner of drugs and other illegal substances, but they've since gotten their lives together and doing wonderfully. Apparently, you can't keep a good celebrity down. I'm skeptical.

And almost every week in "Ask American Profile" there is an answer similar to the one this week in response to a question about Orson Wells. "The Blu-ray 70th anniversary Citizen Kane Ultimate Collector's Edition of the 1941 classic about power and the press will be released Sept. 13 by Warner Home Video." What a coincidence, John Washam of Macon, Georgia, sending his question just in time for the release of the video. Is he prescient, or what?

I'm skeptical.

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