[ This was posted on another website before this one was started, but it belongs here. ]
As each year winds down into its most hectic season, I often find myself thinking about things I've accomplished, lessons I've learned, and mistakes I've made. Some years, that's a painful process, but most years I have more to be satisfied with than not. On balance, 2006 was a very good one, full of things to be thankful for and very few regrets; not the very best year I've ever had, but in the top five at least.
Why is that?
Well, most important, my family is healthy and whole. My 13 year old is doing well in school and getting more mature, world-aware, and articulate every day; she is truly a joy to me (well, as much as an occasionally obnoxious, mildly self-absorbed teenage girl can be). We are also essentially debt free for the first time in many years, so we're able to donate more to charity more often, and we've had the good fortune to be able to help family members who needed help. Also, my auto and home insurance rates have decreased because I've been a contrite, careful driver for a few years (or "probationed" my way out of the times I wasn't), and my child won't be old enough to drive for another two years. And of course, I have steady work that pays well and has good benefits, and there have been no serious family emergencies or disasters for quite a while. That may all be mundane, but there's much to be thankful for here.
But there's more.
My eyes are going blurry, but I'm 50 and I still only need glasses for close work, so no complaints there. My hearing is also ok except for the high frequency hearing loss that makes my wife hard to hear--no real complaints there either.... I also don't need regular medication except for my elevated blood pressure, and I'm still able to take stairs two at a time, sling a 4x8 sheet of 3/4 inch plywood around, and heft an 80lb bag of cement (though all of that does take a little more effort than it used to). Best of all, I am nearly done with a one year Master's program at The Fletcher School
, which is part of Tufts University. When I graduate in March, I will have accomplished one of my life-long goals, which is to prove that I am indeed equal to an Ivy League school. Not at all bad for a public school-educated Philly kid whose father abandoned him in '63, who lived in a housing project and ate surplus food for a few years, and who joined the Army at the age of 17 because he just didn't know what else to do with himself and wasn't good enough at anything
to be especially useful to anyone.
To be honest, in spite of the negatives, I've really had a relatively easy life. I've never been tested beyond my abilities or strength, though there were times when what strength I did have was that which only comes from faith in God. True, I've never been devout (quite the contrary), and I don't practice any religion, so my so-called faith is fairly unsophisticated. Even so, that faith has served me well. For example, 1986 was a year in which if ever I were disposed to suicide, I might have taken that path. I will not recount that awful year except to say bad things started happening just before the new year and didn't stop until a few days before Christmas, although the pain of the last thing has never entirely ebbed. Without qualification, 1986 was the worst year of my life, and it is no small thing to me to have come so far in 20 years. If for no other reason than that, 2006 would have been a good year, but to that I can add all the blessings I recounted above, and more.
And there are more.
For example, it's not January 1968 and I'm not 11, so the world today is not nearly as scary to me as it was then, a month after my first stepfather (the Tarawa vet) died. Of course, that anxious 11 year old still peers out over the edge of my eye sockets sometimes and sees things that cause him to shudder, but he handles it better, and I'm there to cover for him. For example, brain tumors are still a great fearsome evil to me. So are race riots, gang fights, and bullies of every kind (though that last, I know how to handle now). Also, I hate daily "body counts" with a passion I just cannot begin to describe. My stepfather was a news junkie and a creature of habit, so every night we'd eat dinner at 5 and watch the news at 6. Every night I heard the daily body count, and saw the news from Vietnam on TV. In fact, the Vietnam war pretty much delimits my childhood in many ways, officially ending 2 years after
I joined the Army. The Kent State shootings happened the year I started high school....
And that matters. Although I know not one name on the wall, I cried when I visited the Vietnam Memorial for the first time, in 1986. I didn't understand why at the time. Really, I thought I was being silly, or that I was just affected by the CWO-4 I was with who did
know a lot of the men whose names are on the wall and who was very much affected. Funny how a person can be standing among hundreds of people and yet be utterly bereft, alone, and far away in both space and time. It was painful to watch him, and I am sure that affected me, but there was a lot of my past in there too, as were some of the men I served with my first few years in the Army. Last August was the first time in a half dozen visits since 1986 that I stood in front of that wall and didn't cry. For the first time, that was the past, and I am no longer there. I suspect that will never be true for friends of mine who can put faces with names on the wall, and I am sorry for them, but I am not sorry to have left that particular pain behind. Now I only get choked up when I read the speeches on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.
But I do digress, eh?
So what else made 2006 a good year? Well, the pace of life has picked up, but the conveniences have improved too, and I now live in a world that was pure science fiction when I was a boy. Not only can hearts and lungs be transplanted, but also faces and hands! Global telephone systems, global positioning systems, a satellite that measures the changes in gravity caused by bodies of water, and a plan to build a base on the moon that garners only medium media attention! A picture on my computer of the Martian landscape taken by a robot sent there by humans, and close-up pictures of Saturn, and of the farthest reaches of the universe--of galaxies almost beyond count. Medical technology that seems almost magical, and American soldiers who are equipped with stuff that I used to try to imagine when I was in the Army. And American airplanes that look like Golden Age of SciFi paintings and robot planes and submarines and cars that are utterly luxurious and safe, and fewer people smoking, and God's gift to music: CDs! And theater movies in my home, and every kind of music I want to hear when I want to hear it, and books everywhere, and information on any topic literally at my fingertips, so much so that the whole notion of original research is changing, because one need not spend as much time finding references to previous research and can spend more time thinking about things. And my country is 230 years old and we've never once strayed from the path of peaceful governmental transitions and for this
year, at least, I am a citizen of the best, most generous and powerful country that has ever existed on this planet. Ever. And it is no small amount of pride I take in knowing I helped make it so. I belong here, even though my grandparents were not born here. This is my land and Americans are my people! And there are lamps you can turn on just by touching them, and cameras in phones, and phones in earpieces, and computers in our toys that are more powerful than the computer in the first Lunar Lander! And vision problems can be fixed with lasers and cataracts can be removed and replaced with plastic lenses, because of which my father-in-law had better eyesight at 60 than he did at 40! And machines too small to see, and the Lord of the Rings brought to life! 30 years I waited to see that, and it was worth every minute. 30 Years! And e-mail, instant communications, and personal communicators we can carry anywhere, and use to transmit pictures and sounds and messages. And my country smells better than it did when I was a boy (unleaded fuel) and it looks better everywhere; and if young people are fatter (and they are), well it seems there are fewer old folks who are. And there is no polio (I had to take the sugar cubes when I was small and I once knew a woman who had polio, and my step-father's mother wore steel braces for as long as he knew her); small pox is essentially gone, and many other diseases are being eradicated. And at the age of 50, I can seriously consider what I'm going to do for the next 30 years (God willing) without having to think about which old age home I want to live in.
And as for the ills of the world, well, I think we're in better shape than some people might--certainly the U.S. is in better shape than many of its detractors wish were so. No, I'm not Pollyanna, nor am I an ostrich, though I did stop reading National Geographic for several years because it had become the monthly "World-in-Peril" magazine. Fact is, I despise perpetual doom and gloom because it is never accurate or completely true, and because I have faith in the future and in humans, and in Americans in particular. I know there is a lot to be concerned about--a great deal is broken or breaking and needs fixing, and I know that for a lot of people, 2006 was probably the worst
year of their lives. I am not unsympathetic. I would make it better for them if I could. Who among decent people wouldn't? But I can do nothing except say "Have faith. Be strong. The future does not equal the past, and life can and does get better if you want it to. It's not easy, and it's not always what you'd hoped it would be--my son would have been 20 years old last month. Imagine! A man on his own by now, maybe in college, maybe in ROTC or even at an academy, taking that next step forward in the family line....
But things do work out. My daughter is all the more precious to me, and she in no way suffers by comparison with failed dreams, and every now and then she lets her teenage disdain slip a little and she tells me she loves me or she gives me a hug for no reason except she wants to. And my marriage of 26 years is stronger now than ever and I still
like my wife. And if that's not enough to make a year a good one, then I guess I just don't know how to measure such things.
And in the end, although I know 2006 was not a good year for everyone, I feel not the least bit ashamed or guilty for being happy about my year. I've had bad years and as sure as the Sun rises, I'm sure I will have others. That's life, but until then, I am going to revel in the good years whenever I can. Life is just too short not to.
To everyone who reads this, I offer my respect and my prayers for a safe and prosperous and happy 2007. May God watch over you all.
Update Note: 2007 was a pretty bad year for us, but it could have been far worse—but for the grace of God. Still, I've re-read this many times and wondered if I didn't jinx myself, you know?
Moved to canted.com on 15 Sep 16.