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Night Thoughts
By Walter Mills of Recipe du Jour

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 worldwide.     

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 50 years in central Miami, and I see it starting again.  It's going to take some heavy duty tinkering this time, I think.

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