It Was the Best of Times, It Was…

Stupid Facebook. Yes I suppose I must have told the truth about my birth date when I initially signed on way back when.

Hot Dang Skippy! Another Birthday!

But obviously at my age, birthdays don’t carry the sense of accomplishment, maturity and celebration they once did. After a certain number of candles, the date is just so much smoke and icing, the cake underneath, well, it’s been pretty much the same now for quite a few decades and one more slice is okay. But it’s nothing to get up early for.

At this juncture, another year seems both a benign crisis and an opportunity to break new ground–a contrast of opposites–a common language ploy used by motivational speakers, politicians and authors. I speak of the spring of 2002 when my professional life (temporarily) ended and my writing life began as “both crisis and opportunity.”

In fact, I go on to say that those in the audience might have heard as I have that the Chinese character for  crisis is composed of the characters for danger combined with the character for opportunity. And I say that I’m not sure it’s true, but would like to think it was, because it is so poetic and handy and works so well in my little speech.

It isn’t true.  Before I use it again on Monday, I checked this morning. Heck. From wikipedia…

Benjamin Zimmer has traced the history of weiji in English as far back as anonymous editorial in a journal[2] for missionaries in China. The use of the term probably gained momentum when John F. Kennedy delivered a speech in Indianapolis on April 12, 1959.

When written in Chinese the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.

Kennedy employed this trope routinely in his speeches, and it was then appropriated by Richard M. Nixon and others. The usage has been adopted by business consultants and motivational speakers and has gained great popularity in universities and in the popular press.

For example, in 2007, Condoleezza Rice repeated the misunderstanding during Middle East peace talks, and Al Gore did so in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, and in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Some linguists have attributed the appeal of this misinterpretation to its “handiness” as a rhetorical device and an optimistic “call to action.” Because of the attractiveness of this folk etymology, Mair has suggested that its popularity is due in part to “wishful thinking.”

So let this crisis be an opportunity this 62nd spin around the Day Star–another birthday, a call to action, a dangerous opening to boldly go where this boy has never gone before, “without hope and without despair” as writers are said to spend their days.

And I’ll have to tell you, I have been granted the most gorgeous day of the year so far to ponder my longevity while I enjoy this here and this now. Happy Birthday, kiddo!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Oh, yeah, Medicare. It’s one of the good things about growing older. My CPA advised us to take Social Security as soon as we could; he wasn’t sure it would still be available in the years to come.
    Happy Birthday, Fred!

  2. Happy Birthday…Do yourself a favor and start a Photo Road Trip tradition…Gives you something to really look forward to on the day…I spend my early February birthday at the beach just to be contrary…

  3. Isn’t the Internet wonderful for those of us who question? Just think – you are so much better than Al Gore and Condi Rice because you took the time to check your facts before presenting them. Ah …. the questing mind!

  4. You’d think being younger I’d be quicker, but every year you manage to stay 20 years older than me 😉

    Have a good one. It is a beautiful day here in the Commonwealth.

  5. Wishing you a very happy birthday, and YES… best day of the year, at least when speaking of the weather.

    The Blue Ridge Gal