Awash in a cold shower of reality

Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

You want answers, comfort and encouragement. So do I. But today I'm awash in a cold shower of reality.

What the Founders referred to as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" just became elusive, costly and generally more difficult. Again.

Steve Reed is managing editor of the Empire. He can be reached at streed@juneauempire.com.

Amid our pain and our resolve not to let the bad guys get us down, we may experience some self-pity. For example, I have had these thoughts in the past 24 hours:

"It's all so unfair. What did we ever do to those people whoever they are? Why do they think that terrorist attacks against innocent people are a way to solve problems or to advance their position - whatever their position is? We're not trying to deny them their faith or their way of life. Why can't they just leave us in peace?"

But my conscience suggests I may be speaking in code, that what I'm thinking is:

"The actuarial tables say I'm entering the final third of my life. It hasn't been particularly easy. I've worked hard, living paycheck to paycheck. No trust funds, no inheritances, no bonuses, no buyouts, no winning lottery tickets. I always thought I'd reach a point where the daily struggle would ease. Just once, I'd like to enjoy life for a while without wondering how I'll pay the bills. Retirement is a daunting prospect because I didn't start saving until recently and almost half of what I stashed away in a 401(k) mutual fund has evaporated in the last 18 months. The politicians have made Social Security a shell game by which the fund either will be exhausted by the time I'm eligible for benefits or I'll spend my final years spending my monthly checks to buy dog food to spread on saltines.

"And now these damn suicidal fanatics make everything messier, tougher, more costly. It's not fair."

Maybe not.

My father was 10 when the Great Depression enveloped the nation. Farm life was tenuous. When he finished eighth grade, his father said there was a greater need for him to pick their cotton than to attend high school. In 1941, he was making plans to elope when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. World War II deposited him in the bowels of a troop ship crossing the Atlantic and later dumped him behind enemy lines in the Battle of the Bulge. He came home intact in 1945 to a bride from whom he had been separated longer than he had known.

My mother was 12 when her mother died of tuberculosis, leaving her to raise her 7-year-old brother in the households of a series aunts while her father was on the road as a minor league umpire half of each year. And, she was the bride left behind for more than three years within weeks of her wedding.

I wasn't a Jew living in Germany or Poland in 1939.

I wasn't a hunter-gatherer living in a West African village when the slave ships arrived.

I wasn't a Native American standing in the way of Manifest Destiny.

I've never been denied the right to vote because of my gender, the color of my skin or my religious faith.

I wasn't sent to Vietnam or Desert Storm.

I've always worked hard, but I've been healthy enough to work.

I've lived paycheck to paycheck, but it's always been enough.

I've lived for two years in what Ronald Reagan called "the evil empire," and came home with a greater appreciation for freedom from having observed its near total absence every day.

Retirement? The book I keep on my nightstand offers a clue. "Do not be anxious for tomorrow," it advises, "for tomorrow will care for itself."

Americans have ascended to another false peak in our climb toward peaceful coexistence with those who share our planet. Just 10 years ago we thought the end of the Cold War signaled a safer, less stressful, more comfortable path. I don't think we're intended to reach the top, but I think we are supposed to keep climbing.

Just yesterday, a lot of people referred to events on the East Coast as an act of war. Why now, I thought. But the book on my nightstand says there always be wars and rumors of wars. History bears out the book.

There always have been bad guys. As a nation, we should seek to identify them and to strike them down in the interest of our security. Innocents deserve our protection. Terrorism is not acceptable, but it may be inevitable. Finally, I want my reaction to yesterday's events to be honest. If I'm bothered because my row just got a little harder to hoe, shame on me. I don't know the first thing about real hardship.

Steve Reed can be reached at streed@juneauempire.com.



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