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By Walter Mills of
It is 6 a.m., the last Monday morning of March. The rain is dripping from
the eaves and gathering in puddles on the front porch. During the night
the rain woke me, and I listened for awhile, thinking my usual night thoughts.
Worries at night are magnified, like sounds in an echo chamber. Night
thoughts can easily overwhelm us. Better to wait till mid day, when we are
easily distracted, to worry about how the gutters need fixing and the sidewalk
should be replaced. The rain falling down reminds me that the driveway is
slowly washing away down the street and I’ll need a load of gravel to fill in
the winter ruts. At night, the thought of all the things that must be done
when spring arrives makes me long to dive back beneath winter’s white covers,
close my eyes and sleep.
But daylight is struggling to break through the wet, gray sky. I drink a
second cup of coffee, let the cats out to explore the morning, and look out over
the part of the town I can see from my front window. Over at the post
office the rural mail carriers have arrived to sort their routes. At this
moment they will be bantering back and forth across the back room as they put
their stops in order. Down at the end of School Street, the first wisp of
smoke should be rising out of the chimney of the pot bellied stove at the
general store, though the sky is too gray for me to see it.
This morning some people I know will be sleeping in that have never slept in on
a workday morning in their lives. The local plant is laying off, some say
shutting down. Neighbors that I have seen walking to work each day since we
moved to this small town more than ten years ago will no longer pack their lunch
and go to work. A hundred or more laid off fathers and mothers throughout
the town and in the surrounding valley will lie awake at 3 a.m. with worries
that won’t stop multiplying.
When the economists and the commentators talk to us about the efficiencies of a
free market, about the benefits of global trade and how our old economy is dying
and being reborn in a better way in a different place, it is good to remember
that all tragedy is essentially local. Some family you know will be losing
their home or their kids will go on the free lunch program at school. A
grandmother down the street who worked thirty years for low wages will hope she
can, pay her property taxes and fill her prescriptions as she waits for social
security. It seems like the benefits of global trade and the new economy
hardly ever trickle down to the folks at the local level.
Someone is getting rich in San Diego or Seattle, while a
few thousands more lose their health insurance. In the meantime, that
safety net that meant we would all pitch in and do our share for the elderly,
for children and the poor, is being unraveled like a cheap sweater.
But these are night thoughts, when the imagination turns mere shadows into
monsters and every problem seems unresolvable. This is the feverish
irrational thinking of 3 a.m. when worries spiral into fear, and fear turns into
irresolution and despair. Somehow our night thoughts have seeped into the
light of day. Global warming, weapons of mass destruction, collapsing
social security. We have turned our worst case scenarios into emergencies
and disputable statistics into crises.
Daylight is coming up the valley and most of us are rising to go to work.
In the light of day I can see that my problems are trivial and not worth losing
so much sleep over. This is not the time to panic. Our problems can
be fixed if we stay calm and work at them together. We are, after all, a
practical people, a nation of tinkerers and inventors. Let’s not be fooled
again by shadows and the shadow makers.
(The above column originally appeared in the
Centre Daily Times and is copyright © 2005 by Walter Mills. All rights reserved
Note from Bess: I was just discussing this same
thing with friends - a little different in a big city - more people sleeping on
cardboard in doorways of businesses, some more outside of stores with hands out
for loose change not yet pocketed - requests for donations of money and
foodstuffs from soup kitchens become less supplicating and more strident...
I've seen this several times in my 47 years in central Miami, and I see it
starting again. It's going to take some heavy duty tinkering this time, I