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President's Corner (October 21 2021)

Fall is officially here. Nights are getting cooler, and there is a chance of measurable rain on the peninsula within the week. By the time you read this we may be downright wet. (I can hope!) I mention that because watching and trying to understand weather patterns has been an interest of mine since I was a child. How and why I have maintained that interest is related to this month's column.

During a recent Gentrain Book Club meeting, we briefly discussed the criteria for something to become a literary classic. It could be argued that "classic" is simply a label applied to works that have already endured the test of time, although that begs the question of 'How much time?'. Can we identify common characteristics of classic literature? A message that relates to universal human concerns, adapts to divergent cultural norms, remains pertinent in changing social and political environments, and appeals to a broad range of people all come to mind, in addition to skillfully crafted language, be it prose or poetry.

In my mind the discussion quickly morphed to address a much broader context. I thought about historical events, well-known people, cultural habits, and popular trends. Some seem larger than life for a time, but soon become answers to obscure trivia questions. Others are barely noticed by their contemporaries and grow in influence over future generations. On a smaller scale, what about our personal interests? Some passionate relationships and interests fade rapidly; others endure for a lifetime. What distinguishes them? Must we passively watch them develop? Predict their evolution? Intervene to alter their course?

These questions have no clear answers. They would not be interesting if they did. For myself, at least part of the answer is related to continuing curiosity and challenging expectations. Back to the weather. As a child I wondered about the horses and angels I saw in the clouds and huddled in the school gymnasium during tornado warnings. Later I studied the fundamental physics behind those phenomena and built my career moving from one aspect of them to another. There was always something different and unexpected to understand. I have lost count of how many times I have gone through the Gentrain curriculum. Why do I continue? Because there is always something different to rouse my curiosity or challenge what I thought I knew. If the challenge fades, so does my interest.

Somewhere along the line I realized that I frequently enjoyed learning about something more than I enjoyed doing it. Of course, practical considerations dictate that we expend a great deal of effort on things that do not inspire us. But given the opportunity, I choose to pursue ideas and actions that I am unable to fully master. Perhaps this elusiveness is part of what makes something a classic.

Mary Alice Rennick, President


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