Opinion

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We pack our cars, suitcases and purses. We bring cameras, camcorders, extra batteries, chargers and cards filled with positive messages and gifts.

At this time of year, we bear witness to the conclusion of one educational course — primary, middle or high school, college or even graduate school — as we and the graduate prepare for the next step.

In between bites from the buffet, we pause for proud pictures with the graduate and we share our admiration for what he or she has accomplished even as we anticipate the next adventure.

Most of these ceremonies involve walking, sitting, standing and cheering, eating and driving. The action takes a backseat to the words and sentiment that mark the occasion. The graduation speakers offer personal anecdotes and words of wisdom, even as they recognize that short speeches, particularly for those eager to fill an empty stomach or discharge a full bladder, are a welcome part of the day.

While we’re milling around, we have ample opportunities to impart our own wisdom, to share encouraging words and to provide the kind of tailwind that accelerates the next phase of life.

So, what do we say? Did we pack our belongings, but neglect to choose from the wealth of words that can fill a sail with air, that can help us feel capable of defying gravity, that can enable us to see through this moment to a magnificent future?

How often do we watch an interview with someone who has accomplished the unimaginable, who doesn’t know what to say or who is it at a loss for words when someone shoves a microphone in that person’s direction?

We have time to consider the right words, to be supportive, and to make our trip to another state or another school meaningful, even if the graduate is too close to the focal point of his or her life to know how to react to the torrent of feelings and thoughts.

We can rely on a Hallmark card, a Thesaurus or a set of clichés to share our thoughts, or we can take a moment to find the right words, in between all our packing, our search for the right gift and our purchasing plane tickets.

Someday, a daughter graduate may be sitting on a plane heading for a meeting in Salt Lake City and may wonder how she got there and whether she can succeed in the next phase. Maybe she’ll recall the moment you took her aside, placed your hand on her shoulder, smiled in her eyes and suggested she paved her own path with perspiration — if she appreciates alliteration.

She may recall how you enveloped her hand in yours when you reminded her that everything, even a moment of weakness, provides opportunities for the next success. Perfection, she’ll recall as she remembers how you accidentally spit on her cheek when you started to speak, isn’t about the perfect achievement but about the perfect effort.

She will recall the moment you told her how much she inspired you with her awareness of the needs of others and with her grace under pressure.

If your graduate is anything like the ones in my family, for whom skepticism and cynicism hover nearby, he or she may roll their eyes and search for a phone to text a friend to ask if the recipient of the message can believe what you just said.

Someday, the graduate or that friend may borrow a word, phrase or idea from the ones you shared, providing fuel to a tank that seemed empty and converting the next impossible task into a reality.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A recent article in The New York Times asked, “What is your oldest or most cherished grudge?” Everyone holds grudges, I guess, and they can range from some perceived slight or cutting remark to deep hurt or betrayal. While we all know that forgiveness is a lot healthier than anger, still there is something immutable about a deeply held grudge. However hard and sincerely you try to let go of it and go on with your life, it’s impossible to entirely discard the pain. Some people even admit to tending their grudges like a garden.

“Holding onto a grudge really is an ineffective strategy for dealing with a life situation that you haven’t been able to master,” said Dr. Frederic Luskin, founder of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, as reported in separate Times articles by Tim Herrera and Katherine Schulten. The psychological study suggested that “skills-based forgiveness training may prove effective in reducing anger as a coping style, reducing perceived stress and physical health symptoms, and thereby may help reduce” the stress we put on our immune and cardiovascular systems. Carrying anger into old age can result in higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness.

So how do we discard grudges? How do we forgive?

Luskin urges that we recognize three things. First that forgiveness is for you, not the offender. Second that it’s best to do it now. And finally that forgiveness is about freeing yourself.

Then to continue the process, change the story about the source of the grudge. Rather than being a victim, think of yourself as heroic. Then think of the good things in your life so as to balance the harm. And remember that life doesn’t always turn out the way we want. Luskin emphasizes that forgiveness is a learnable skill. It just takes a little practice, he advises.

Now all of the above sounds good but I have another track to suggest. To sooth a grudge, there is nothing quite as satisfying as revenge. And the best revenge? A life well lived. It’s an old adage but true.

So what makes for a life well lived? I guess there are as many answers as there are people, but I can tell you mine. Make your home a happy and comfortable place by creating a room or a corner just for yourself. All you need is a special chair with a fluffy pillow or a bedside table with your latest reading choices or music source, and of course a picture you love on the wall. Take an aromatic bath. Welcome friendship and love in your life. If all else fails, get a dog.

When the weather is glorious, take a guilt-free walk, even for five minutes. Say hello to strangers in the post office or the supermarket aisle and watch a smile appear on their faces. Make yourself something you really like to eat, and if you shouldn’t be eating it, just eat a little. Do some kind of work that is worthy of you, then take pride in the way you carry it out. Clean out just one desk drawer and feel like you have your life under control. Remember to laugh at life’s little incongruities.

Go see a good movie. Or a play. Or attend a concert. These can all be found locally. Plan a trip, even if it’s only for a Saturday afternoon to the East End. Then go on it and see how many new things there are to see. Buy a shirt or an ice cream cone. Celebrate every possible occasion and even celebrate just for the heck of it. Take a nap, if only for 20 minutes.

And for Pete’s sake, read a newspaper, preferably a hometown paper because that tends to have more good news!

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Despite the hours we work to consistently get this paper into your hands and the local news to your eyes and your ears, we cannot be everywhere at once. Our budgets are ever-more limited, and our attention is pulled to all parts of our coverage areas. News outlets having to cut staff and resources means there are gaps of information. We do our best, and we hope you agree it is well worth the buck you paid for it, but perfect coverage is impossible in this day and age.

Something will move in to fill the gap — it’s the nature of these things. Surprisingly, that hole has been filled with something that was once used for college kids to learn who was dating whom, that being Facebook.

It’s amazing how much information is parsed and spread through individual Facebook pages, along with both private and public groups. You have community pages, moms pages, VFWs, even small municipalities like fire departments and villages all using their pages to get messages out. For us journalists, Facebook has become a tool to gather stories, sources and even occasionally to conduct interviews.

But for residents, Facebook is a razor-barbed rose. Disturbingly, to professional journalists who do their absolute best to get to the heart of the truth, the opposite is regularly proliferated through these same Facebook pages. Rumors fly across social media faster than any one person could hope to actually investigate each post.

At meetings, we often hear officials complain about the rumors spread online, though we journalists condemn any elected official who should ever truly complain about a community becoming engaged, looking at the overall low polling numbers across the spectrum. However,
this activism on the community’s side is not helped with false facts.

Taking journalism classes in college, students are often first made to take a media literacy course, which helps students identify false information when it’s presented to them. One phrase, which became a tagline at the media literacy course at Stony Brook University, was “open the freezer,” relating to a media report back to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans back in 2005. One broadcast claimed the bodies of those who died during that traumatic storm and its aftermath had been stacked in a walk-in freezer as they were waiting for transport. However, the news report was false, there were no bodies in the freezer. The problem? The reporter never bothered to open the freezer and see
for themself.

Don’t take what is on Facebook for truth automatically, as each one of us can be a little journalistic even without a degree. Try researching online, try calling the people referenced in these stories. Don’t take any information presented for you at its face value. Skepticism is healthy for the eager news junkie.

Never let what you read on Facebook be the end to a story. Be sure to take a peek inside that proverbial freezer.

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Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

We generally don’t have to look too far to find difficult marriages. But what about the unions that reside inside us?

Determination and doubt travel together when we’re making a decision, when we’re confronting the naysayers and when we’re preparing for the next steps in our lives.

Sure, I could take the harder assignment, prove something to myself or my boss, venture into the unknown in my area of expertise, or I could stick with what I know, take jobs that will be manageable and remain in my comfort zone.

Determination is often considered the more admirable member of this marriage. Such fortitude pushes us to set new expectations and to venture into arenas where the risks we take could cause physical or emotional bruises.

We see determination when we look at the faces of people running up a hill, returning home late from work, or practicing their musical instruments until they develop rings on their lips or red welts on their necks.

When we’re seeking inspiration, we read about or consider the determination of others, who overcome financial, emotional or logistical limitations and exceed everyone’s expectations but their own. Determination is akin to an off-road vehicle that we maneuver into untrodden or difficult terrain, hoping our suspension and alignment can handle the sudden and unexpected contours of a landscape better suited for pictures or studies of nature than for travel.

While it has a bad reputation, doubt, like the blue girl Sadness from the movie “Inside Out,” also has its place. Doubt can, of course, make the determined part of ourselves even more steadfast, as we seek to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we can and will accomplish anything.

Doubt is the rain that can make the sunshine that much sweeter.

Doubt also can spring from reason and understanding, as in, “I doubt climbing to the top of that tree, when I haven’t maneuvered to the top of a tree in years, is a good idea.” Yes, doubt can and does save us, not just from embarrassment but from injuries, discomfort or dead ends.

Reflexively ignoring doubt as an unwelcome voice whispering in our ear carries risks that may be unnecessary, such as ignoring a “Beware of the Dog” sign before jogging through a stranger’s yard.

So, how do we deal with this married couple? Do we let determination rule the day most of the time, while we periodically give doubt the chance to share concerns about obstacles and consequences?

The answer depends on the circumstance. What is the downside to acknowledging, understanding and appreciating the origin and potential benefit of a doubt?

This doubt shouldn’t need to hide behind the punch bowl, sit in the dark with the coats in a back bedroom, or wait in the car while determination gets to run wild, pushing our limits.

We should consider doubt — whether we or someone else expresses it — in the open, allowing ourselves to ponder and plan for the difficulties ahead, giving ourselves a chance to make informed decisions and to see a few steps into the maze of our future.

Our doubt may help us find a better course of action, redirecting and refocusing a determination that enables us to persevere over the course of a future filled with potential but riddled with uncertainty.

If our determination makes a better case than our doubt, at least we’ve benefited from the marriage that lives in us. Indeed, at its finest, determination should not only understand and appreciate doubt, but this tenacity should also use concerns and objections as motivation, giving determination the opportunity to win over the concerns doubt expresses.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Incredible as it seems to me, it was exactly 50 years ago that we started packing for our move to the North Shore of Long Island. We were on an Air Force base in Texas at the time and had originally not planned to come here. It was 1969, the Vietnam War (a part of our everyday life in the military) was raging, both Kennedys and Martin Luther King had been assassinated, the country was being ripped apart by riots, and until that moment we had intended to settle permanently in San Diego. My husband, who loved warmer weather, had researched the climate throughout the nation and decided that when his tour of duty ended, we should live on the southern California coast.

So we were taking our two sons, the third still in utero, to settle on the other side of the country from the city in which we were both born. But our families were still in New York. And when the time came for us to declare our intentions to the movers, we couldn’t go through with the decision. In those chaotic times, family seemed the most important element of our lives. My parents were our children’s only grandparents, my husband’s parents having both passed away some years earlier. Our children were my parents’ only grandchildren, and they all adored each other.

To everyone’s surprise we changed our plans at the last minute and wound up in Stony Brook, attracted by the coming medical center, which my husband felt would enrich his ophthalmology practice. The rest is history, our history interacting with our hometown, and after half a century I will say that the community never disappointed.

We discovered St. Charles Hospital, where our third son was born and where I was cared for like royalty. After a nomadic year of renting, we found a beautiful piece of property in the middle of the woods and borrowed to the hilt so that we could build a modest ranch house there. My husband started his solo practice—that’s what physicians did in those days—in a small medical building in Port Jefferson, and after six months we could afford linoleum to cover the subflooring in the kitchen. A year later we were able to pave the driveway. We regarded those as personal high water marks.

Meanwhile we loved, loved, loved the beaches, the creeks and the rivers within easy drive. We swam, collected all manner of shells and identified them for our children, we rode tire tubes into the harbor as the tide swept us out of the creek and we rented kayaks to paddle on the Nissequogue River. Our big expenditure was a Sailfish that we kept on the rack at the beach, and we sailed across Stony Brook Harbor to the Smithtown beach.

We were pleased to join the Historical Society, the Environmental Center, the Emma S. Clark Library and the Civic Association. People welcomed us, we found friends—or rather our children found friends and we then became friends with the parents—and we enjoyed the social and cultural scenes thoroughly.

Our children were educated in the local school district well enough to continue in life and thrive. We thank the many teachers, administrators, counselors and other personnel who every day delivered that fine effort.

My husband’s practice grew, and so did our children, so that shortly after the youngest started first grade I was able to realize my dream: starting a hometown newspaper to serve these villages. Again, our work was welcomed and our lives blossomed. I am thrilled every time I meet new residents and visitors to our area. Those contacts are invariably enriching, and we take our mission to provide impartial information and protect the community to be a noble pursuit. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to be joined by highly committed colleagues.

After 50 years, we can look back and know that we made the right choice.

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Editorial cartoon by Dale Neseman/NYPA

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically protects the practice of religion in this country. While there have been few exceptions to this rule, mostly in cases where a religion may lead to harm, it has constantly and clearly protected the rights of people to practice in the way they see fit.

When a recent story by TBR News Media broke on social media, based on several readers’ comments, it looked like many people were confused when it came to freedom of religion.

The article reported on a Stony Brook University graduate wearing a turban, who was refused admission into a Port Jefferson restaurant because the establishment has a no-headgear policy on Friday and Saturday nights. The manager was allegedly sticking to the restaurant’s policy, while either being unaware or ignoring the unconstitutionality of refusing a person service based on religious attire. The customer in question practices Sikhism, where males wear turbans as articles of faith in public.

While the restaurant owner said he would change the rule, the event and comments on social media showcase a particular ignorance of the most foundational law in the U.S. Unfortunately, many readers have said they thought the manager had the right to make the call and refuse the graduate service.

They are wrong. Our Constitution protects our expression of religion, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin — or religion. Whether a Sikh is wearing a turban, or a Jewish man is wearing a yarmulke, they cannot be asked to remove their head covering in order to get a drink or something to eat, just like service can’t be denied to a nun in her habit or a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

Freedom of religion in this country even protects employees of that restaurant and other businesses when it comes to practicing their religions. State and federal laws, unless causing undue hardship on the operation of business, require employers to make accommodations, within reason, for workers whether they need a break to pray or take a day off to observe their Sabbath or celebrate a religious holiday. The employer may ask them to make up the hours, but they can’t deny an employee time off for religious reasons unless it will be detrimental to a business, for example, due to a small staff. So, whether a Christian can’t work Sundays, or a Muslim needs to take a break to pray, an employer cannot dissuade them from doing so.

Employers must also allow dress and grooming practices that employees follow for religious reasons, including not only head coverings but certain hairstyles or facial hair such as the Sikh beard. So, as Americans, whether it’s as a customer or an employee, we are free to practice our religions.

Sikhs have been active in the U.S. Armed Forces, where they have been given special exception to wear turbans, while remaining as dedicated as any other service member. As we celebrate Memorial Day, May 27, remembering those who died to protect our rights, let us also not forget the principles that are being protected.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

As I write, we are 530 days away from the 2020 election. It’s nice that so many people want to lead this nation. Notwithstanding William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who is a GOP challenger, it seems clear that the Republican nominee will be President Donald Trump, while the Democratic nominee could come from any of at least 23 candidates — and counting.

I’d like to ask these candidates a few questions to get the ball rolling.

1. How will you try to unify the nation? Clearly, we are a divided country. We can’t agree on anything from abortion to gay marriage to the job Trump is currently doing. We have become the Divided States of America. That doesn’t sit well with those of us who have enjoyed the benefits of a country pulling together through so many crises and conflicts, and who have appreciated the opportunity to travel from state to state, feeling like a part of something that spreads from sea to shining sea — and to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam. What will you do in the interest of unity?

2. Is there any way to bring the world closer together? If an extraterrestrial force landed today and threatened society, we would set aside our geographic and historic squabbles, and work together to understand this new species and protect ourselves. Why would it take such a threat to unify humans? Is there any way to spread peace, while allowing for differences? If you believe peace is possible, in what turbulent area would you start and how would you bring any two sides together?

3. Can we establish any political rules? It seems that the old days of agreeing to disagree or civil discourse are gone. Were those measured words and polite disagreements a matter of political correctness and do some candidates benefit from attacking each other? Would all of the candidates agree to a level of respect for each other, for the process and for the American populace?

4. What kind of role model will you be as president? Can you lay out any rules you would follow as president, in terms of what you would do and what you wouldn’t, as our leader? What should the penalty be for you if you don’t follow your own rules?

5. How will you measure your own success? It’s so easy to declare yourself a winner and to tell the country and the world what a great success you are. So many of you will run under the banner of bringing change or steering the nation toward a better or, some might say, great future. Don’t just tell us you’re wonderful, give us an idea of how to recognize it. What metrics will you use to know that you’re successful? Are the polls more important, or is the economy, the stock market or anything else a good barometer of your success?

6. What will you offer children that they don’t get now? Parents often care more about their children than they do about themselves. What will you do to make schools, food choices, activities or other options better for children than they are today?

7. How will you protect our elections? It’s clear that other nations feel like they can influence our elections. What can you do to ensure that the process proceeds as it should?

8. What’s wonderful or great about your spouse or partner? What do you admire about this person and what is one of your favorite memories with him or her?

9. Do the ends justify the means? Is it as important to ensure that the journey obeys certain rules and that the country follows a specific compass, or is it acceptable to get to the final destination by any means necessary?

Author Angela Reich with her book, 'Shipwreck of Hopes'
Leah Dunaief

Today, May 23, is the birthday of Margaret Fuller. She would be 209 years old. I don’t know if you have ever heard of her. I hadn’t really, maybe vaguely. She was actually born Sarah Margaret Fuller, named after both her grandmothers, until she dropped the first name at age 9. She was in other ways a precocious child, too, the oldest of Massachusetts lawyer and Congressman Timothy Fuller’s children, and he taught her to read and write before age 4.

Fuller, a Harvard grad, was such a stern teacher that he forbade her reading sentimental novels and instead gave her what was then, at the beginning of the 19th century, a vigorous classical education — indeed a rarity for a woman at that time.

Margaret Fuller grew up expecting to be exceptional, and she was: as a journalist, editor, literary critic and women’s rights advocate. She strenuously protested slavery, homelessness and other injustices. She advocated for education for women. She also was reputed to be the best read person in all of New England. She was the only woman allowed to use the Harvard library for her research. Her breakthrough book was “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” considered the first major feminist work in the United States, and she was friends and the intellectual equal of such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne — said to have modeled Hester Prynne after her, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and admired by Edgar Allan Poe.

Margaret Fuller

She died in 1850 at age 40 in a shipwreck off Fire Island, with her Italian count husband — if they ever married — and 2-year-old son, within sight of the shoreline. Her ship, the Elizabeth, ran aground on a sandbar as it was being captained by the first mate. The event was in all the metropolitan newspapers four days after the tragedy, once word could get out after the gale passed that had come sweeping up the East Coast, destroying the ship. Fuller had been sent by her publisher, Horace Greeley of the New-York Daily Tribune, to Europe from which she filed dispatches for four years, first from England and then from the 1848 revolutionary wars raging in Italy. In effect, she was this nation’s first female wartime correspondent.

Fuller’s life was honored with a book, “Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli,” a flattering portrait edited jointly by Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing, all of whom rushed to get it out in print before, they feared, her reputation would die. In fact, it was the best-selling book in the United States until Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Margaret Fuller was a remarkable woman, and I am glad to meet her. How did we happen to meet?

We were introduced by Angela Reich and the Three Village Historical Society. Reich wrote a book called “Shipwreck of Hopes,” about the ship Elizabeth, and although this is fiction, the author spent a great deal of time getting the historic context right. She traveled to Harvard, poured over original letters and manuscripts, and otherwise discovered that there were thousands of shipwrecks off the Fire Island coast. Yes, thousands! This just happened to be one of them, and this one carried a famous passenger.

It is a wonderful thing that we can listen to a writer discuss his or, in this instance, her book and all that went into the writing, dressed in our daytime suburban-casual clothes, enjoying other community members similarly gathered and even a little homemade carrot cake on a given Monday night. In the process we learned some local history and met two worthy women: Margaret Fuller and Angela Reich.

We live in a terrific place where such delights — theater, music, documentaries, political debates and book discussions — frequently happen. All we have to do is get off the sofa after dinner and go to them. It’s often hard but so worth the effort. 

Above, an Eastern screech owl hatchling in New York, revived from near-death after falling out of her nest

By Erica Cirino

‘We are all fragments of the Earth’s collective imagination. From our perceptions of other beings and of places, we create ourselves. From our perceptions of ourselves, we create the meanings of our lives.’         — scrawled in my notes atop a cliff in Grimsey, Iceland, while watching a young puffin preen

The UN’s Global Assessment Report  released on May 6 made something ecologists have been saying for years and years even more clear: Earth has an invasive species problem, and that is humanity. We are taking over land, sea, air and space at an unprecedented pace, and with painful consequences for all other life on this planet we share with eight million other species. 

One million of these other eight million species are directly threatened with extinction due to our ravenous consumption of “resources” — the living and nonliving components of the Earth we choose to exploit — in addition to our straight-up takeover of space. Nonhumans probably classify us as a scourge. Rightly so. 

Above, an Eastern screech owl hatchling in New York, revived from near-death after falling out of her nest

More than 7.3 billion humans are alive today. Less than 80 pygmy three-toed sloths are left in Panama as humans clear mangroves — sloths’ habitat — for farming. There are probably fewer than 10 tiny porpoises called vaquitas alive in the Gulf of Cortez today because humans have been illegally hunting a fish called a totoaba with gillnets that catch and kill nontargeted marine mammals, including vaquitas. 

The world’s last northern white rhino died in Sudan in 2018 after a surge of poaching for rhino horn wiped out the entire species. Insects — which, while they can be pesky when buzzing in our ears or landing on our food — serve as part of the foundation of both terrestrial and aquatic food chains and pollinate the plants we rely on for survival but are dying off due to our intensive use of pesticides. 

The seas are being emptied of fish to feed our growing, and increasingly hungry, human population as tiny and toxic particles of plastic increasingly permeate the marine food chain. The skies are emptying of birds, which are increasingly growing disoriented and crashing into buildings in our brightly lit cities filled with tall skyscrapers. Nonhuman terrestrial animals are being forced to live in shrinking habitats as we clear land, head for higher latitudes thanks to climate change, and off the coasts where rising seas encroach. 

Yet, humans continue to take over the world. I find this fact quite difficult to cope with. 

An Atlantic puffin in Grimsey, Iceland

I am a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who has worked with sick, injured and orphaned nonhumans for more than 11 years, since the age of 15. I believe wildlife rehabilitation is not a solution to conservation issues, but simply a way to help individual nonhumans get a second chance at life, because humans have made life on this planet very hard for other species (and also our own species). It’s a small way to help right some of humanity’s wrongs. 

But when I turned 22, frustrated by all the human-injured wildlife that passed through my hands (shot by BB guns, poisoned, abducted, abused, hit by cars, smashed into windows), I stopped working in the clinical setting and moved to the world of photojournalism. It was my attempt to enlighten humans to the plight of nonhumans — to offer facts, to help our species perspectivize and perhaps empathize — so that maybe some nonhumans would be spared from a destiny of harm instead of needing a rehabilitator’s help. I continue to rehabilitate a few nonhumans every year, because I empathize with them, I know about their natural lives, and I know how to give them first aid. 

 While humans are more than surviving on Earth, we are not exactly thriving: About one in 10 people in the world do not have enough food to live a healthy life. More than 300 million people in the world — including children — are depressed. Climate change is stressing the landscapes people rely on to survive, fueling disease, malnourishment, conflict and migration. If all of this sounds really horrifying, well, it is. But if you think we have it hard, try to imagine how the nonhuman animals must feel, with their world being taken over by just one species: us.

One patch of plastic-covered beach in Rawai, Phuket, Thailand

Animals must reproduce to survive. But humans have already proven that they can do that. Why do we reproduce more than we need to to hack it as a species? A lack of empathy? Pride? Is it something that happens when a human being is so full of confidence about oneself that they believe they should make a reflection of it? Or perhaps it is something that happens when a human being desires the opportunity to live vicariously through a blank canvas that they themselves can paint, can create, to right the wrongs that their parents  —  or maybe their parents-parents  —  made when raising them.

It’s clear we lack empathy, not only for other species but for our own. We are so individually focused. Why have such a strong drive to procreate when the survival of our species in this world is easy, virtually guaranteed? Why not focus on elevating the lives of the less-fortunate humans, and less-fortunate nonhuman beings? Why not use the energy we spend procreating elsewhere, like volunteering to reforest the planet or pick up plastic trash or feed hungry people? Yes, giving birth may fulfill a human’s primal desire to create, but at what costs for the entire world?

Approaching Húsavík, Iceland, by sailboat on an expedition to study the effects of mass tourism, fishing, whaling and plastic pollution

I have always wondered why we celebrate the birth of a human baby, but why there is no champagne and no cries of joy when the duckling hatches from an egg, when the she wolf delivers her pups, when a neonatal shark swims from a pouch. In raising and healing wildlife, I lay no claim. I try, in a very small way, to restore the proper balance of nature, rewilding the world by setting its nonhuman children free.

 As a wildlife rehabilitator, I do not get congratulated each time I set an animal loose into the unforgiving arms of nature. I do not get cries of sympathy when an animal dies in my hands despite my attempts to resuscitate him or her. I do not get the same kind of pride out of raising a baby animal to adulthood as many people do when they raise a baby human. I don’t see a reflection of myself in the peeping owl hatchling or chattering baby squirrel, despite the fact I’ve spent painstaking days and nights, for weeks or months, feeding and cleaning these creatures.

And I don’t need to see that reflection. We are not all the same species, but I do feel that the wildlife and wild places of the world are a part of me. Though humans and nonhumans are separate in DNA, I believe we are still equals as kin on this Earth. We must get out of our own heads to empathize with nonhumans. We must prioritize the raising of all species, not just our own.

Erica Cirino is an international science writer, artist, award-winning photographer and licensed wildlife rehabber. Visit her website at www.ericacirino.com/speaking for a list of free upcoming lectures in Suffolk County. 

All photos by Erica Cirino

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Mark your calendar: May 21 is election day! And according to New York State law, so is the second Tuesday in July for most Suffolk County fire departments. The third Tuesday in March is also election day for many village trustees and propositions. Election day for state and local primaries, well that’s June 25 this year. When do you vote on library budget? Each local library has a different day for its election. So, why then do we call the first Tuesday in November election day as if there’s only one day when citizens vote?

Election days can be tough to track. It’s like the nutty old Abbott and Costello skit “Who’s on first, what’s on second, and I don’t know is on third.” Yet elections are no laughing matter.

Collectively, all of these elections amount to increased spending, which overtime adds up. It’s not easy getting it straight — not only these dates, but also all the spending.

In recent years, large and seemingly extravagant multi-million-dollar public projects have been both approved and declined by popular vote with lower voter turnout throughout our circulation area. The $14.9 million bond for the new Setauket Firehouse was approved on its third try with just 580 people voting out of a population of several thousand in the fire district. Last year, a bond presented by the Mount Sinai School District was voted down with a 664-428 tally against the project. Mount Sinai has a population of over 12,000.

If one or two days each year were designated election day, it would be easier to hold elected officials accountable by enabling taxpayers to see a broad overview of taxation on one ballot.

At TBR News Media, we would support consolidating elections into one or two universal election days each year. Make it a national holiday, so people are more keenly aware of their obligation. Maybe turn Columbus Day, a federal holiday, into election day? With one or two annual election days, citizens could more easily track spending and stay abreast of community affairs.

But until this happens, as we said, mark your calendars. All elections are important: They determine where our money will go and how much of it.

On May 21, Long Islanders will vote on board of education members and school district budgets, which account for a significant majority of our local tax bills. It’s a crucial vote that typically gains support from parents with children in school, while retirees or people with more limited income, who may have different priorities, make a point to show up at the polls to say no.

That’s the system we have now, so be sure to exercise your right to vote May 21.

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