This has been a surprising week. When you have thought about something for a long time, wanted it for a long time, but convinced yourself it would never happen, then it does--well, then, that's a good week. Last Saturday we lived in a beige/tan sort of house that disappeared into the woodwork, so to speak. This Saturday we live in a bright yellow house with crisp white trim, soft brown shutters, and a blue door. And I love it.
The thing about being without funds (sounds better than "poor") for much of your adult life is that when the fog lifts, the sunshine is so much brighter than for those who have lived in the glare all their lives. Or at least that's what I tell myself. I do know that I am grateful for what I have today in a way I haven't been before. So, here's to the universe, the wheel of fortune, the hand of fate, whatever.
That said, there are things that are driving me around the bend. Wisconsin politics, the threat to teachers and education generally, the selling out of the universities, our ridiculous health care system, the stranglehold big business has on politicians, Indiana politics, the Tea Party, Fox News, Glenn Beck and his ilk, and those Wall Street bandits who beggared the nation and jeopardized the wellbeing of the entire world. That's enough to start with. Add the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you have enough to make me want to crawl in a hole. The tragedies caused by earthquakes and tsunamis, disease and famine, and even global warming are in a way unavoidable. Yes, we contribute to climate change and the suffering of distant peoples, but these are caused by our indifference. The others in my list of aggravations are more directly the result of actions consciously undertaken by people who ought to know better. That's what makes them so infuriating. The whole Wall Street debacle, the housing boom and bust, and the plight of the uninsured have happened right under our noses, in plain sight. And all were deliberately ignored. Bernie Madoff went to jail, but what about the rest? I don't foam at the mouth to see people punished and their families ruined, but some accountability would be nice. I'd like to see the financiers who came up with all the fancy financial products that bankrupted Lehman Brothers et. al. at least issue an apology and give back their obscene bonuses. I'd like to see wealth taxed, as well as labor. I'd like to see the well-off have a little more concern for those who are struggling and a bit less self-complacency.
When I was a kid, I always assumed that if I were in trouble--say, if I were attacked or lying sick by the side of the road or starving--other people would come to my rescue. I was naive. Yes, there are saints who give themselves to others--Mother Theresa, Medicins sans Frontiers, Peace Corps volunteers--and I applaud them. But most of us, me included I'm afraid, like to steer clear of real suffering.
I think what we need to do is consider human nature and its failings. Instead of shifting the blame around to this villain or that group, we should recognize that there is something wrong with all of us. Christianity speaks to this in its doctrine of Original Sin. Others religions have devised other explanations for man's depravity or disengagement. Science seeks explanations in genes, chemical imbalances, or corrosive environments, but it seems to me that most people today are so caught up in the surface reasons for the world's ills that they ignore the real one: human nature itself. We have met the enemy and it is us. In days of old, religious leaders, poets, and philosophers held up a mirror to humanity and exposed our greed, our sloth, our selfishness, our cruelty. Now it's always someone else's fault. No one is guilty; everyone is a victim and therefore innocent.
I read somewhere that a girl in the 19th c. was likely to write in her diary that she hoped to be a kinder, better person; whereas, a girl in the late 20th c. was more likely to worry about the size of her bosom, the adequacy of her wardrobe, and her overall appearance. One was concerned about character, the other about clothes. I'm not saying that people in the 19th c. were better than people today, but does anyone doubt the superficiality of many contemporary obsessions?
I wish I knew the answer to the question: Well, then, what should we do? I do think that most people try to live decent lives, but does that include those who fret about the increasing Hispanic population or those who don't want their children to marry the wrong race or gender or those who think cheating in business is no big deal? If most people are decent, then why are things so f---ed up? Perhaps none of us is as decent as we would like to believe. If we are guilty, then how should we live?
When I was young, I believed that when I got older I would discover answers. Now I am ripe in years, and there are only more questions. I am beginning to believe that explaining life's imponderables is less important than learning to bear them with grace.