Mostly peaceful thoughts on Memorial Day

Thanks to veterans and those in the military

American flags mark the graves of veterans at Massachusetts National Cemetery during a past Operation Flags for Vets prior to Memorial Day. Photo by Casey Ashlock, as published by WBUR.

As one of three daughters of a brave, honorable, now-deceased WWII veteran who served as a medic in Europe, I salute and honor those who have served or are serving their countries. On a recent flight  I shared with more than 20 U.S. Army soldiers, I was overwhelmed by how young and vulnerable those men and women seemed, particularly young to be putting themselves in harm’s way. I also was mindful of the disparate opportunities that brought them to military service.

Getting a mental reboot on Memorial weekend

Saturday, I decided to take a little time away from work, and I walked with my husband, Bernard, from my office to the campus bookstore, something we do rarely. I was drawn to the shelf of books by faculty members, the titles of which I found varied and interesting. I realized how little I knew about most of the books or the people who had written them—probably not very different from many faculty members, as we inhabit our own frenetic worlds and largely remain siloed from one another.

Although I usually read on Kindle these days, I decided to buy copies of two books written by faculty members so that the authors would get the full royalties, such as they are. I bought The Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals, by Bland Simpson, about a ship whose crew disappeared mysteriously off the Outer Banks in the first half of the 20th century (I’ve always been fascinated by ocean wrecks and other mysteries) and The Broken Ladder, by Keith Payne, about the effects of inequality in societies, particularly in the U.S.

The latter book, as Payne wrote, is about public health, because income and social inequality create stress, decrease access to education, good jobs and adequate health care, and leave people unhealthier, as compared to those who live in societies with lower income differentials. Income inequality in the U.S. has increased in the past few decades and contributes to our lower health status compared to many other countries. Nothing that has occurred in the past couple of years suggests that income inequality in the U.S. will decrease anytime soon.

I’ve almost finished both books; they are good, interesting and well-written.

I also started the new book, War on Peace, by Ronan Farrow. It’s about U.S. foreign policy and the decline of diplomacy (vs. the role of the military) in the Trump era – a sobering reminder of our vulnerability in a world where diplomats are replaced by generals.

Working on the Going Viral symposium showed me how hungry people are for genuine interdisciplinary experiences that allow them to get beyond their comfort zones to learn new things, meet a diverse group of people and make new intellectual connections. Beyond what we do in the process of university business and research collaborations, it’s uncommon for many of us to seek out people in completely different areas, and generally, it doesn’t happen magically. In picking the faculty members’ book titles, I was motivated partly by the fact that I’ve found, in my own career, that serendipitous, interdisciplinary connections often are the most interesting ones, and that they occasionally generate exciting new insights and directions. If nothing else, finding oneself in others’ worlds, even briefly, can make a person feel terribly grateful to live life on a college campus. That privilege should sharpen our resolve to give back. It’s not an entitlement. We should earn the right to be here every day.

Good reading!
Barbara


The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

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