Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Hope of January

The kitchen clock read 4:38 PM, as I gazed out the window at the January landscape – the mourning doves, who love to visit the bird feeder at dusk, were quietly pecking at the dusting of new white snow – and soft afternoon light still lingered in the sky. The end of January heralds our journey to the other side of the winter solstice. Even though the wind was blowing in chillier Arctic air, the pale light was a harbinger of the spring to come. We still have a long way to go from the long, dark cold days of winter, but the light is steadily returning.

The past month has been stressful – health problems of my own, financial struggles, worrisome issues with my children, and many days tending to sick and cranky grandbabies. It has not been the best of times.

This coming week is the one-year anniversary of the day my sister told me she was dying. I have dreaded this date, and it is almost upon me. I have made it through her birthday and the first holidays without her, but I am finding myself reliving these awful weeks when I knew something was dreadfully wrong, and now I will feel once again the anguish and finality of knowing our remaining time together would be counted in months instead of years.

I have often been reminded in these six months since her death, of Joan Didion’s thoughts in her book, The Year of Magical Thinking. “All year I have been keeping time by last year’s calendar: what were we doing on this day last year.” Once the first year had passed, she says, “I realized today for the first time that my memory of this day a year ago is a memory that does not involve John.”

This time will come for me, but for now, this next week will be the beginning of the worst memories – those of watching my sister’s decline. I am bracing myself for this. 2009 was a tough year for me, my family, many of my friends, and countless families in our country and beyond. We all hope that 2010 will bring happier times, but so far, those closest to me have not seen many glimmers of hope.

But, this afternoon as I gazed out at the powdery new snow, the contented mourning doves, and the pale whisper of spring to come, I was filled with the solace that life does go on – sometimes “the darkest hour is just before the dawn”, and our saving grace is our ability to transcend the worries and tragedies of our lives and once again laugh and marvel at the miracle and rebirth of spring, even in the midst of a January snow.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Let's Save Our Country

I am seriously concerned about the direction our nation has been taking for the past couple of decades. I am not politically savvy – my knowledge of the workings of government is limited. My understanding of our economic system is very limited, and as we have moved toward a more global economy, I am even more perplexed. However, there are several issues that I believe are extremely important to the future of our country and our quality of life. I feel we must deal with these issues now.

Capitalism has served our country well, but in the past few decades, we have lost sight of the fact that, while this is still a land of great opportunity, more and more of our citizens are working hard, but falling further and further behind. Why are we unable to regulate an economic system that grants million dollar bonuses to corporate executives, while failing to provide a livable wage to millions of Americans? Many of these people, unfortunately, lack the intelligence, education or connections necessary to thrive in today’s workforce. While they work long, hard hours they must struggle to afford housing, transportation, health care, and other basic necessities. Shouldn’t our economic system provide a livable wage to anyone who labors daily at a job? Executives are making unprecedented salaries and bonuses, while many of their employees who are involved in the more mundane day to day functioning of the company are overworked and drastically underpaid for their loyalty, skill and effort.

Why is health care reform such a volatile issue? Everyone can see that our health care system is costly and inefficient. I firmly believe we need health care reform, but I’m not certain that the legislation currently on the table is the best solution. I believe a government option might help reign in insurance company profits, but I want assurance that I will be free to choose my own doctor and have timely access to care. I am also very worried about making health insurance mandatory, without an affordable government option, because I believe that most people already would pay for health insurance if they could afford it. If they can’t afford it now, I don’t see how they can afford it when it is mandatory, because the government subsidies spoken of don’t appear to cover the total cost of the insurance. Most importantly, though, we need health care reform desperately because health insurance is increasing at a rate that far surpasses the stagnant income of our average citizens. Unfortunately, I feel that the process for crafting this necessary legislation has been thwarted by Republicans who are determined to see the reform fail, as well as Democrats who steadfastly refuse to compromise their personal agendas within their own party, because they know that their individual votes are crucial to the passage of the legislation.

Why can’t our political parties begin to work together to solve the daunting problems of the 21st century? Why must every issue be “black and white”, with a sharp split along party lines? Why must each party work relentlessly to block any legislation proposed by the other party? Have we become a nation which puts political power above the needs and common good of society? We have intelligent, thoughtful people on both sides of the aisle in our Congress and State legislatures. Both parties, while supporting distinctly different philosophies on most major issues, have terrific ideas for change and improvement. Why can’t they talk to each other and craft legislation that carries the best of both political philosophies? The two-party system seemed to serve us well for years – why can’t we once again strive for a middle ground? I believe that this “middle ground” probably holds the most hope to improve our nation and society in general. Leaning too far to the left or too far to the right upsets the balance that is necessary to maintain a nation of power and stability, which holds the common good of its citizens as a priority.

Last January, when we elected Barack Obama as President, I was filled with hope for a brighter future for our nation. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts to promote cooperation, a year later we are still mired in this ugly partisanship, which seems to place party loyalty above the common good. This must change.