Jay Lacklen: Harbingers

August 30, 2011 11:19:00 AM

Jay Lacklen - lacklenj@aol.com

 

I wandered over to the pool this weekend looking for relief from the heat. But as I looked into the deep end and contemplated the cold shock that would accompany my leap into the water, I noticed a bright yellow tulip poplar leaf floating on the surface. 

 

The sight arrested me, the vivid yellow leaf floating above the sparkling blue of the water and pool liner. What was this leaf doing here, I thought? It is still August, the temperature is 95 degrees, yet this tree has begun shedding its leaves? 

 

Tracking that thought farther, I saw this yellow leaf as an early harbinger of what will come in a month or so, a season change. Nature is sending early warning signals to those who will heed them. They seem incongruous against the background of heat and a still fully green forest surrounding the yard, but they predict correctly. 

 

I thought back to other harbingers I recognized only long after they had tried to inform me. I had not understood them and failed to appreciate their warning. 

 

In 1963 I vaguely noticed an incongruous event in South Vietnam, an obscure country I would come to know only too well almost a decade later. Buddhist monks began immolating themselves in front of the South Vietnamese legislator building. 

 

These were not the homicide/suicide bombers of future Middle Eastern wars, these monks killed no one but themselves, and horribly. They were expressing, in the most personal and terrifying terms, that some chronic problem afflicted their society. Had we heeded this harbinger, we might have avoided a war we should not have fought propping up that misaligned society, or we might have demanded a political reordering to resolve the problem. 

 

An economic harbinger presented itself in 2003. Richard Grasso, Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, secretly engineered a $140 million golden parachute for himself with an additional $40 million bonus. Despite subsequent law suits, Grasso kept the money, a harbinger that disaster awaited as Wall Street operatives could skim the system for outrageous fortunes, even as some of them drove their companies off a cliff into bankruptcy. It wasn''t until 2008 that this became evident in the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. 

 

I playfully imagine setting Richard Grasso on fire in front of the stock exchange. 

 

On a lighter note, my granddaughter, Caroline, two-weeks short of her 2nd birthday, delivered a stellar---- harbinger for me and for society. 

 

Her mother, Jessica, had told me about the pony Caroline had ridden named Sandy. Jess handed me an Apple iPhone to see the picture. I stared at the contraption blankly, not even knowing which way to turn it. 

 

Caroline toddled over and took the plastic and glass rectangle from me. She turned it upright and pushed a button on the upper right that displayed a crowded field of pictures, each of which represented individual albums. She then poked at one in the middle bringing up the proper album. 

 

Turning the rectangle sideways, she began rapidly whisking her index finger across the screen that scrolled rapidly through individual album pictures. They flew by as the pages of a book might when blown by the wind. After about ten swipes she smiled and held up the screen for me displaying the picture of her seated on the pony. 

 

"Shandy" she explained. My god, I thought, I''ve just been schooled by not-yet 2-year old! I am used to asking my daughters to explain electronic gizmos for me, but this set the record. Twenty years ago I was something of a computer geek, but now I''m a clueless, doddering old fool on current technology. 

 

Caroline''s generation''s electronic prowess promises to revolutionize society more profoundly than any previous generation. I can''t quite grasp all that will mean. Incredible capability, no doubt, but also, perhaps, a loss of basic human skills necessary if the electricity suddenly stops flowing for some catastrophic reason. 

 

I now see half the tulip poplar tree leaves have turned yellow, for me, unnecessarily. I already understand their proffered message. For more subtle harbingers, I fear I do not understand.

Jay Lacklen is a retired Air Force Reserve pilot, who flew missions in Vietnam and Iraq. Presently he is simulator instructor at CAFB and is writing a book about his experiences in the Air Force.