Saturday, December 29, 2012

I am Locutus - of Borg. Resistance - is futile. Your life, as it has been - is over. From this time forward, you will service - us

The 25th episode, in the 5th season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is entitled "The Inner Light" and I think that everyone should go and watch it right now; even if you've seen it before.

Now, I am a fan of ST: TNG and have been since it first aired on broadcast television, starting in the late 80's and into the mid-90's. I realize that my attachment stems from feeling like I grew up watching this show, and while I do like all things Start Trek, I don't love any other show, movie, comic or fan-fiction creation like I do TNG. But, all this matters not where the specific episode mentioned above is concerned.

Some might say that the following is needing a "SPOILER ALERT" to avoid ruining the episode I've directed everyone to watch. However, I'm thinking that not many of you will go and watch it, but most importantly, I can write page after page about this episode and still not ruin it for any virgin viewer. So, here is a quick synopsis of the episode:

A routine investigation of a unknown interstellar satellite or spacecraft quickly turns dangerous (as far as the Enterprise crew is concerned) when a beam of unknown and powerful means overtakes Capt. Picard, rendering him unconscious and in a dream state. Meanwhile, Picard is shown waking up disoriented but apparently living another person's life on a planet with a civilization on the cusp of achieving space exploration. Picard is supposed to be a young man when he "arrives" on this planet, and has a wife and young children. Back on the Enterprise, the crew and Dr. Beverly Crusher attempt to break the Captain away from the controlling energy beam, but when they do, Picard's vitals fall and he begins to crash, so they reinstate the beam. Picard is shown growing into an old man, with grown children who are beginning their careers and schooling decisions. Also, it is found that the planet is doomed, as one of the nearby stars is about to destroy the planet. And, at this point, some of the people that were in Picard's dreamed life on this planet present themselves and explain to him that he has just gone through a program designed to allow the memories and lives of this civilization, now a thousand years gone, to survive, if only in the memory of one individual. Picard awakens on the Enterprise, everything is okay again -- then, at the very end of the episode Number 2 comes to Picard's quarters and brings him a flute, which was the only thing found in the satellite. A flute that Picard feels like he spent the last 40 years (or so) playing as he lived as another man, a man with a wife, children and a full and satisfying life on a  planet that has been destroyed for a millennium.

It is worth noting that up to this point in the show's progress, Picard has been shown to dislike children and have very little romantic interests; the one possibility (Dr. Crusher) is the widow of one of his best friends. After this episode, it has been noted that Picard softens significantly.

Now, I will grant that this episode isn't a cinematic or television masterpiece in terms of production, acting (except for a few key scenes with Sir. Patrick Stewart) or script, but what it does have is an eternal message that hits at the heart of human existence: what if I had chosen differently? It could be argued that every single moment of existence is full of choices, and that each one could lead into completely different futures. There is an idea that there are parallel universes that are constantly spinning off, where there is versions of "us" in each one, where all possible variations of all choices are being fulfilled in different dimensions. Okay, maybe this is happening, but it matters not, unless we can figure out how to manipulate (much less, prove this is the case) or affect such parallel worlds. So, whether or not this is the case, it seems to me that when one looks back, there are certain decisions that loom larger than others. For instance, Picard chooses to pursue a career in Star Fleet, consciously choosing to sacrifice a wife, children or a family at all. Sometimes these choices are well contemplated and mindfully chosen, at other times we make choices that can only be judged to carry such weight when we look back in hindsight (which, I would argue is heavily skewed by confirmation bias and in no way is "hindsight 20/20!") can we see the fork in the road and how far the roads eventually diverged.

While I most likely will never be a Captain of a starship, I am on the path to becoming a physician, which calls for similar (granted, I know this is quite a stretch) sacrifices, in terms of time sacrifices and stressful situations (at least, in the emergency room and other high pressure specialties) and I will most likely never get the opportunity to live another life in the span of 25 minutes, I can always turn to Netflix and watch this episode and let my mind imagine what things would be like had I chosen some other prongs of the proverbial fork.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Let it snow.

I am thankful for my family -- the immediate and extended alike. Living away from most of them for almost ten years makes for fun, filled, and always, trips that are too short. Unlike most undergraduate programs, which allow for a month plus break in the winter, medical school (at least, my program, and most DO programs, I'm sure) allows for just over two weeks between semesters. That, coupled with my wife's work schedule afforded us a small window with which to travel north up to Portland, Oregon. Various issues (the least not being my wife's father's continued health struggles) were at play that would have made staying at home the prudent decision, but one of the nice things about once again living on the West Coast, is that we are within a (relatively) short drive up I-5 from Portland. Also, my plans to spend most of next summer in Israel, involved with an Emergency Medicine rotation means my opportunities to see family will be severely limited, that, coupled with the beginning of the clinical years of medical school means I may not be around for the next few years.

Living in Northern California allows for some well received rain storms to pass overhead. A large system was moving through on the day we decided to head north. I-5 has a couple of passes that can see winter driving conditions at various times of the festive season, but compared to driving in Colorado and even I-80 over the Sierra Nevada passes, adverse conditions are short and usually sweet. The morning before we left I was checking the weather reports, and snow was definitely falling around Mt. Shasta, and chains were required on trucks and towing vehicles -- no big deal, especially for a seasoned Colorado alpine driver armed with an AWD Subaru wagon. After we hit the road, headed north, we drive for nearly 3 hours before we start seeing road signs warning us that I-5 is closed 10 miles north of Redding. Further investigation reveals that the interstate is also closed at the pass south of Ashland as well. There is no timetable provided for potential re-opening of the freeway.

Options at this point include turning around, and spending Christmas with beloved friends and family near home; we also thought about waiting out the closure either at a Starbucks, rest-stop or at a hotel; or, we could take a small, winding state highway due west to highway 101, which we could take north and eventually make our way back to I-5. Complicating matters is the third member of our traveling party: our 100lb Akita, who is a wonderful dog, but has a weakness for eating kitty-cats. My parents have a cat, and so far has shown a sharp distaste for being eaten. We have a kennel in Oregon we know and trust and as such we were going to keep her there during our stay -- the key being that if we didn't get her there prior to 3pm on Saturday before Christmas, we wouldn't be able to board her at all, which would have been a major problem. In light of all this, but perhaps most importantly, I like the feeling of going somewhere over waiting things out, we decide to take State Route 36 from Redbluff to Humboldt County. I'm sure that driving this road on a sunny afternoon in the summer, with the top down, provides for a stunning, world-class drive, not only for the scenery, but also because of the (seemingly) never-ending switchbacks and hairpin turns while hugging the side of a mountain while hanging over a deep ravine -- I'm sure the lack of guardrails provide for an unimpeded view for the river that I imagine courses through the valley floor, far below the highway. That said, driving this route in a winter storm, with snow and ice packed roads, near white-out conditions and not a town, service or cell-phone reception within hours behind or in front of us made for a challenging drive. Falling asleep was not an issue, nor was it an issue on Highway 199, which connects Crescent City to Grant's Pass, and was also significantly treacherous for an hour or so. 

All in all, an 8 hour drive was pushed to nearly 17 hours. But we made it safe and sound, with hours to spare for getting Petra to the kennel before they closed for the holiday. 

Despite the stressful aspects of the drive to Portland, I am still thankful for the opportunity to have such a wonderful family to visit. I got to spend time with people that I haven't been able to for many years, and even  meet younger members (I'm looking at you, baby Jenna!) that I hadn't ever seen before. Seeing cousins grow up and start their own families is satisfying and enjoyable. For those that weren't able to be in Portland (I'm looking at you, Phil, Bobby, Rob & Bella (and Sabo Kiddos)) know that we were thinking about you and that you were missed. 

Here is to the last remaining days of freedom (for medical students, and, convicted and soon to be sentenced criminals, I guess) and happy new year everyone.  

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