Alan Zendell, October 29, 2017
Growing up in the years after the second world war, it was easy to believe that America was the land of the good guys. We were nobler and fairer than the rest of the world, and no one would ever defeat us at anything. We often lost in the Olympics until our crowning achievement in 1960 when our amateur hockey team won the gold medal over the Russians. See? We could even beat their state-sponsored professionals. What couldn’t we do?
Even when the Russians beat us into space, we continued to believe, and a decade later we were on the moon. Even when we abandoned space exploration and got stuck in the morass of Vietnam while our president tried to rig an election, we believed. Even when the stock market crashed in 1987 and the dot.com boom fizzled a few years later, we still took our divine right of superiority for granted.
Then one day we woke up and realized how vulnerable we were to enemies we’d never even suspected, our school systems were failing, our children were graduating from college into an empty job market, until nine-eleven changed everything. We’d never be complacent again – or would we?
We still believed we lived in the best country in the world with leaders that would always do what was best for us. We implicitly understood that we had put our racist past behind us and our grandchildren’s generation would live in color-blind, multi-cultural harmony. Our schools were coming back, and we didn’t mind that our best students were the children of all those brown and yellow people who’d recently emigrated here because, after all, it proved that we were still the land of opportunity.
We even elected a black president. All we had to do was keep the terrorists at bay and everything would be fine – except that just when we sure things could only get better, our corrupt banking system collapsed and nearly brought down our entire economy. We had to open our eyes to reality once again and what we saw wasn’t pretty.
Our government had regressed into partisan bickering that prevented anything meaningful from getting done, just when we needed it to perform at its best. And the attempt to assure that all of our citizens could finally count on affordable, available health care revealed divisions that many of us had forgotten were there. Greed. Class warfare. An undercurrent of latent racism that had never died and was now seething toward a boiling point. Xenophobia. Isolationism.
And then the final blow. Through it all most of us still believed we would wake up every morning knowing we wouldn’t be embarrassed by our president. Somehow we would still project a moral leadership that the rest of the world could respect, because he would never let those forces of division and dissolution take over. Instead, we are shamed every day by what our country is becoming, by what comes out of our morally bankrupt president’s mouth and tweets. Oh, the things we’ve taken for granted and the price we’ve paid.
We can’t do anything about that now, but we can at least stop taking ourselves and our families for granted. We can stop turning blind eyes when someone close to us drinks too much, or becomes dependent on drugs, whether or not they’re legal. And we’d better be honest with ourselves about our own health and fitness. It’s all we really have control over. No more being in denial about that extra ten pounds or that pain you feel when you turn the wrong way or that cough that you can’t shake all winter.
Or, and this isn’t for the squeamish or the faint of heart, even the basic body functions you never think about. I recently emerged from a three month nightmare that has taught me never to be complacent about anything again. Elective surgery to fix an arthritic shoulder seemed simple enough, and it was. But waking up in the hospital with my body’s entire waste disposal system not functioning was one of the things I’d never even considered. Doesn’t everyone just take that for granted?
No one ever expects his or her body to betray him. Just like no one expects his government or his teachers or his president to. But it happens. We can’t afford to take anything for granted ever again. Sometimes things work out in the end. We take a deep breath and realize we dodged another bullet, but we won’t always be lucky. It’s up to us.