In our quest to get in better shape Ernie and I were hiking the, mostly, paved path circling Ft. Lowell park off Craycroft and Glenn during the second week of June. Usually, we walked at the two-story Tucson Mall every other Saturday morning because the mall had air-conditioning. But on this picture-perfect Chamber of Commerce day, we decided to switch our routine. Consequently, the park’s walking trail.
It hadn’t rained yet in the Sonoran desert so the humidity was maybe 7%. Evidence? The Prickly Pear cactus looked like shriveled prunes dying of thirst. Sad but, all-in-all, I had no weather complaints.
We were strolling at Ernie’s three-quarter pace, passing the duck pond, when all of a sudden Ernie said, “What would you say is the number one problem in the world today?”
Buying time, because I wasn’t really listening, I asked, “What are you talking about?”
Annoyed Ernie’s face flushed and he raised his right eyebrow as he cut his eyes my way. “I’m talking about this world. Our world. People living on planet earth. I’m talking about people trying to figure out why this place is so messed up? I’m talking about people wondering about the number one problem that prevents a meaningful solution.”
Calming himself Ernie said, “So, I’m asking you, how do you have it worked out, what, in your mind, is the number one problem in the world today?”
I thought I got it. “Oh, okay … well …”
“Many would argue it’s politics,” said Ernie.
Ernie rushed on. “Some may say the number one problem is race …”
“Yes, it could be …” I tried to speak.
Ernie interrupted. “ … or being rich or poor …”
I agreed. “Money without a doubt can be a problem…”
Ernie wasn’t listening to me. “or some suppose religion is the number one problem …”
I tried to concur. “Sure, many could make a strong case for …”
“Or someone else may say sexism is the number one problem.” Ernie talked faster and louder. “The thinking is that if women were in charge of everything it’d be a sugar and spice world. Or another thought is if men weren’t always second-guessed by women the world would be better …”
I broke in. “There’s an idea …”
Ernie didn’t stop talking. “Or another may insist the environment is the number one problem …”
“That’s credible, isn’t it?”
“Or perhaps the number one problem is animal cruelty,” Ernie said.
I wanted to object. “I’m not certain that …”
“Actually though, it’s none of these.” I looked at Ernie. He looked smug. He said, “All of these are merely symptoms of the number one problem.”
I was stumped. “Oh really.”
Looking right at me Ernie smiled. “Are you curious to know what I’d say the number one problem is?”
We’d nearly completed one lap around the park. I could see our starting point. “OK fine, enlighten me.”
Ernie said, “The number one problem in the world today is disrespect for God.”