Conversations With Raymond
Ray called earlier in the week and asked if he could bring Christy with him for our Sunday lunch which we had previously scheduled. They arrived about eleven thirty.
I was on the terrace with a newspaper in my lap, but I was not reading; I was thinking which always transports me to my own world and, for a moment, did not notice that they had strolled out to the terrace.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," standing when I suddenly became aware of them.
"Regi, this is my friend Christy," he said grinning.
"How do you do, Christy. I'm delighted to meet you." She immediately extended her hand.
Christy was a lovely very surprise, a black girl with a heart-melting smile that completely takes over her face, but it is the smile in her eyes I noticed first.
"I'm so happy to meet you, Mr. Firehammer," she said while shaking my hand. "Raymond has told me all about you."
"I bet," I said. "But please call me Regi, Christy, and please have a seat, both of you."
I wanted to know everything about Christy, but carefully avoided sounding like an inquisitor, nevertheless, she was voluble about how she had become a technical writer, about her family, and her interests. She was not only charming but obviously very intelligent.
Lunch was a simple affair of sandwiches, including Ray's favorite cream cheese and olive, with soup, crackers, and other condiments. We talked while we ate, and during that conversation, Ray mentioned that Christy's family were preppers.
The term confused me for moment. When I was young there were schools called "Prep schools" where high-school aged students who could qualify went to prepare for college. The students in those schools were called preppers, not always a complementary term.
I knew that is not what Ray meant, of course. Cristy's parents certainly wouldn't be going to Prep school. What prepper means is not new. There have always been preppers. In my younger days they were called survivalists, a term which itself has survived.
I asked Christy, "what exactly do you mean by 'prepper?'"
"It just means being prepared for any possible emergency or disaster," she said, then asked, "aren't you a prepper?"
"Oh, yes," I said. "If that's what it means, I've been a prepper since I was twelve. That's when I joined the Boy Scouts. Their motto is, "be prepared." I've always taken that very seriously.
"Regi, I never knew you were a prepper," Ray said. "You mean you have food storage, emergency medicine, a bug-out bag, and things like that?"
"Oh no," I said. "I don't have anything like that. I don't walk around with a lightening rod attached to me either, and I don't have a store of shittum wood."
"What's, ah... that wood you said?" Christy asked.
Well it has been reported it is the kind of wood Noah used to build the ark. If I were going to be prepared for everything I guess I would have to prepare for a deluge, wouldn't I?
I saw Ray wink at Christy, I suppose to warn her that I was teasing her. He needn't have warned her. She was very canny.
"I'm sorry Regi, I don't believe your looking for any, ah..., "shit'm" wood. And what's that nonsense about a lightening rod?"
"Christy, I am teasing you a little, but only a little. What kind of emergency or disaster do you think I need to prepare for?"
"It could be anything," she said, holding up her hands. She was quite enthusiastic. "It might be a natural disaster, a tornado, earthquake or flood. But it might be unnatural, such a collapse of the economy, or sudden government oppression, or a terrorist attack, which could be anywhere," she continued.
"I suppose that's true," I agreed. "Of course the odds of dying in a terrorist attack are about 1 in 20 million, but one should certainly be prepared for it, and since the odds of being struck by lightening are 1 in 280 thousand, one needs to be ten times as prepared for a lightening strike. Shouldn't a good prepper have a lightening rod attached to them?"
Christy gave me a rueful look, but it was very charming.
"You are not really a prepper at all, are you," she said accusingly, but without rancor.
"Well, not in the way you mean, Christy. I appreciate why those, like your parents, believe in the prepper route, and it certainly does no harm if not carried to extremes. But here is a principle: it is not possible to prepare for every possible emergency or disaster, and an emergency is, by definition, the one thing you are not prepared for."
She listened intently. Then asked, "So what would you do in a real emergency. Suppose the electric grid goes down, or trucks stop delivering food to the gocery stores, or some nut poisons the water supply, or there is a sudden epidemic, perhaps from biological warfare?"
"Hmmm," I said brightly. "The problem with hypothetical situations," Christy, "is that they are never realistic, never complete. For example, how long is the electric grid down and why? I've lived where it was down for as long as two weeks in the dead of winter. At most it was an inconvenience. Trucks aren't the only way food is delieverd. There are endless sources of water today. And, there is no way to prepare for an epidemic without knowing what kind it is.
"I know one thing, Christy, I'm not going to go out into the wilderness, and try to live by foraging, hunting or raising my own food. Can you see me with a rifle over my should tramping aound in some swamp?"
Christy just grinned.
"At my age, I'd rather die."
"Well I think you'd do better than you think," she said, "and what about those who have no objection to doing those things?"
"I certainly would never discourage any one else from doing any of those things, especially if they can enjoy them. Perhaps only if they can enjoy them. I've alway had trouble with the idea of 'survivalism.' The purpose of life is not to make it last as long as possible. The purpose of life is to live and enjoy it and to produce and achieve all one can. There is no point in living in unproductive misery with no other objective than extending one's life."
Ray looked a little bored with our conversation. Probably because we've discussed similar things before, but I think he was enjoying the prospect of Christy being a challenge for me. As for Christy, she was very attentive, and seemed to react to my last statement with a bit of shock as her eyes grew wide. She was obviously not offended by anything I said, and was, in fact, quite unflappable. I was growing quite fond of this lovely young girl, and was thinking I would soon change the subject. There are so many more interesting things I would have liked to be talking with her about.
"So you think being a prepper is a waste of time and resources," Christy suggested.
"Oh, it would be for me," I agreed. "But everybody is different. I think for some people the whole prepper thing is like a hobby; they enjoy the whole idea, and it is certainly not without benefit. I would never say it was a waste of time for such people, so long as they do not assume all their preparation will guarantee they will never face an emergency or disaster."
"May I ask a question?" Ray interrupted.
I looked at Christy. "Do you mind if he interrupts?" I asked her, grinning.
"Oh, I suppose not," she said with a silent chuckle.
I thought I detected a, 'humph,' from Ray before he began.
"I know you do not think it is likely, but suppose there was a major interruption in the food supply, some kind of famine. How long ... how much food do you have right now, and how many weeks could you live on it?"
"I have no idea," I said honestly. "You've seen my pantry and freezer, I think it would last quite awhile, especially if you didn't come around too often," I teased. "But for the sake of your question, let's say it would last two months. What's your point."
I knew what his point was going to be, and I was perhaps a little mean to let him go on.
"So, if the famine lasted four months, you would starve to death."
They both looked at me with some expectation. I'm not sure what they expected.
"Well, that would be the end of me, wouldn't it. And where would you go for Saturday Breakfast?" I asked, looking at Ray. "Are you prepared for that?
"By the way Christy, I know your parents must have some long term food storage. Do you know how long it is planned for?"
"Dad says there is enough food to last comfortably for six months, and, if necessary, we could go a year without starving."
"So, if the famine lasts more than a year, you'll all starve to death just like me," I suggested.
"Dad says that if we have to go very long without any food except what we've stored, we'll be able to find other sources for food, even if we have to produce it ourselves."
"Well, maybe you could, just as maybe I could find some other source for food after two months. But we're talking about how much food one should have stored. You both think two-month's worth is not enough. I'm just pointing out the a year's worth is not enough either if one is preparing for anything that might happen. In fact no amount could be enough for anything that might happen, which is for me, a major problem for preppers. It is not possible to prepare for anything that might happen; one can only prepare for what they believe actually might happen, or what is most likely to happen. And if some disaster occurs it will be the one that was not prepared for.
"That is my biggest difference with the so-called prepper movement. There is an air of paranoia about it, an undercurrent of belief that any number of pending disasters are likely. I've lived a long time and have heard all my life of just such pending disasters, and so far, not one of them has occurred. Of course, disasters and emergencies occur, but almost none of them occur without any warning at all, and most of the people who suffer from those disaster and emergencies have placed themselves in places or situations in which they are most likely.
"So, Christy, I am prepper, but not the kind you would call a prepper. I prepare the most important thing one will ever need in any situation, emergency or otherwise, one's store of knowledge about as many things as one can possibly learn.
"The more one learns about the world and how it works, the more one is prepared for any eventuality, even those which others will call disasters. If one is aware of what is going on in the world, they are able to avoid, by forseeing most of the worst possibilities, and those they are unable to avoid they will know how to deal with."
Christy knew immediately the subject was closed.
"By the way, Regi, thank you so much for the lovely lunch," she said.
Ray was not quite so discerning.
"Oh, yes, thank you for having us," he said. "But I have one other question. Isn't your view of the world a bit optimistic."
"Is it?" I began. "Ray, I cannot look at the world as a place of forever pending disaster and trouble. The world is full of surprises and the unexpected, but most of those surprises are unexpected delights. I did not wake up this morning expecting to spend the afternoon chatting with a beautiful young lady, but here she is, one of the most delightful surprises I've had in some time. Where else could that happen except in a benevolent world."
Christy was unembarrassed by my obvious flattery. She just smiled.
"I have to warn you, Christy, Ray is quite opinionated, if you haven't already noticed."
"Oh, I noticed," she said. "I am too. We get along just fine because our disagreements are fun, just like ours today."
"Did you disagree with me. I hadn't noticed," I said.
"Well, I disagree with you that I'm beautiful, but don't mind if you think so."
"Oh you are so wrong, Christy, but we'll have to talk about beauty another time, I'm afraid.
Wise woman that she was she did not argue with someone insisting she was beautiful, but I had aroused her curiosity. I invited them back for lunch the following Saturday. I was looking forward to talking to Christy about beauty.