I read the quote above and put down the New York Times, the gallows humor too profound to ignore. The article by Mark Epstein was quoting a friend whose contemporaries were dying.
Mine are, too. At an alarming rate. My Christmas card list this year showed a disturbing number of deletions.
There’s nothing like a realization about death to make you think about life. It also makes you count your blessings, so herewith a few thoughts on both subjects.
We have seen the days…
The world’s a tougher place than it has been for a while. Poverty, large scale geophysical disasters, countries declaring bankruptcy, a government that seems to have lost its governance skills because of a spiteful determination not to cooperate on governance, but rather to obstruct forward movement and obfuscate truth. A country that is seeming less a land of opportunity and more an oligarchical structure in which the 1% has and controls everything, while the 99% struggle simply to survive. This is the first generation since the Great Depression in which kids graduating college can’t reasonably expect to do better than their parents did.
Weirdly, gratitude has become my bulwark against all this bad news. Maybe it’s just my self-protective rationalizing or maybe it’s the result of a long and peripatetic life. These are serious times for serious reflection and concentrating on what blessings I do have is oddly comforting. Metaphysically, too, that’s an important distinction because the sages say ‘like attracts like,’ and nobody wants to attract less, unless we’re talking poundage. So first thing every day I remind myself of the best news of all – that I’m alive – this great privilege that’s been denied to so many of my friends is a pretty heady gift in and of itself – especially now that I realize I’m in an endangered regiment!
I lie in bed and make my thank you list for God/Goddess/Universe (whoever’s listening in The Great Beyond) and generally it’s enough to launch me into the day feeling at least somewhat ahead of the game. I confess I’m better at this list of things to be grateful for on some days more than others. I still maintain my Irish belief that the purest sign of faith in God is a willingness to tell Him what He could be doing better in this world. Yes, I know that’s cheeky, but I believe any God worth praying to would appreciate honesty more than obsequiousness.
These days I frequently tell Him to take a look at politics.
The State of the Nation
We’ve been blessed as a nation for a lot of years. Our freedoms, our way of life, our comforts easy to take for granted. There was a rhythm to it for the most part and a promise: Work hard, do your best, live a decent life and you’ll prosper and your children will have a shot at prospering even more. But that’s just not necessarily true anymore. Times are tough and for the first time in my lifetime even the activists among us are stymied about how to make it all better. So we stay alert, look for opportunities to better the small things in our immediate circle of life as best we can, because the big things seem to have come undone in too big a way and to have been corrupted by forces so powerful, both visible and invisible, that the task seems insurmountable.
Can We Fix Anything?
So what do we do to fix what’s broken, we keep asking each other? Is it even possible any more, when we are curtailed by economics and surveilled by both government agencies and marketers every nanosecond of our lives?
If those of us who are of an age where they’re shooting at our regiment don’t have any good advice to give, who will? Cyber-rich children with more brains than heart? Corrupt politicians in the pockets of special interests? The Lions of Wall Street with their rapacious need to own it all? A Banking System in which not one high-powered perp has been jailed for destroying an entire economy and the dreams of a generation? An Administration that promised so much and delivered so little?
Probably none of the above will provide so much as a particle of what’s needed. A groundswell of individuals who care deeply and committedly about fixing what’s broken is probably our only hope. Come to think of it, that’s probably the truth of how it’s always been, it’s just that we’ve been both battered and lulled into submission since the turn of the millennium, wearied by heavy losses and hampered by economic hardship and the knowledge that the greediest seem to have won it all while the rest of us are struggling to survive.
Which, oddly enough, brings me back to gratitude – for what we do still have. Like tough-mindedness, integrity of intent, memory of how life once worked so much better – I remember all that and I’ll bet you do, too. In fact, I think this visceral collective memory of a time when the systems essential to our lives and livelihoods worked well, is a gift we can and must give to the younger generation. The knowledge that once upon a time, even those who disagreed in our government managed to compromise for the common good. Corporations were not given the absurd privilege of being considered humans, the outrageously rich weren’t given free hand to buy elections, American jobs were not outsourced and most workers could earn a living wage. All these memories are essential to being able to imagine a better future. And it wouldn’t hurt to remember when people were kinder to each other, when corporations hadn’t broken their covenants with workers, when truth was valued more than spin-doctored lies, and when human contact had not been replaced by electronic devices that promise connection but deliver it in only the most superficial way… all these memories help to build a structure for a more decent tomorrow and if we can help the next generation to believe that such a society is possible, perhaps they’ll be smart and feisty enough to create it. Sometimes, hindsight is a very instructive tool.
I’m grateful for the memory of better times and also for the conviction that some things haven’t been, and never can be, corrupted – like love of family and friends, and strength of heart and mind and will, that only gets stronger in the face of adversity. If there’s one thing the generation they’re shooting at now knows, it’s this:
We are stronger than we think.
We are strongest when the chips are down.
We’ve seen Presidents come and go, both the great and the disastrous ones. We’ve seen wars won and lost, plagues overcome, a depression survived, borders shifted endlessly and uselessly at the whims of self-serving governments. And all these random vicissitudes have inspired us to resourcefulness and bravery in the face of the odds. You might say we have a track record like Mother Courage. There have been cruel, greedy robber barons before, and terrible cultural inequities, and ghastly human rights violations and corrupt governments and violent revolutions and we’ve survived it all and lived to fight another day. And while we may be the next regiment over the hill, I think there’s still quite a lot of fight left in us. Because, most of all, my generation knows this: it isn’t over til it’s over.
“It will be alright in the end.
If it isn’t alright, then it isn’t the end.”
Amen to that.
© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2014