Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Something better than happy in the new year

New Year

I don't know anybody who isn't glad to see the door shut behind 2009. Or who isn't, with cautious hope or a lot of it, praying for all that to be over so we can get back to where we were before we were forced out of the garden of innocence and prosperity.

Or was it ignorance and illusion? Maybe some of both.

It's not that I don't want you (and me) to be happy this year. But if happiness means returning to business as usual, then I'll have to say no thanks.

What prescience Paul Simon had when he wrote the lyrics to American Tune in the mid 1970s:

And I don`t know a soul who`s not been battered
I don`t have a friend who feels at ease
I don`t know a dream that`s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
But it`s all right, it`s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
we`re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can`t help it, I wonder what went wrong

Sometimes, we try to get out of the painful place so fast we don't have time to figure out what went wrong. That usually means we keep traveling on the same road that got us there.

If you tried to have a conversation with my grandmother about happiness, she'd have thought you were daft. Happiness wasn't any sort of goal. Godliness, cleanliness, duty: those were what life was about. Happiness was just a condition that happened along, more or less often depending on the temperament God and your genes blessed you with. Or on whether you belonged to one of the serious cultures or one of the more joyful ones.

I come from the stock Garrison Keillor calls "Dark Norwegian." The kind of people who eat lutefisk on purpose. Who first set foot in South Dakota in winter and thought it was a nice place to stay. The kind of people for whom "well, that's not too bad," is as close to a declaration of glee as you can get.

Of course, living in the decades of unusual prosperity with the other indulged Baby Boomers has softened me. I'm as preoccupied with  personal ease and comfort as the next person.

But it seems we've entered a time of regrouping and deliberate change. The joy and happiness in doing that is considerable. It's just not the kind of happiness we usually think of when we say "Happy New Year."

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age`s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it`s all right, it`s all right
You can`t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow`s going to be another working day
And I`m trying to get some rest
That`s all I`m trying to get some rest

Tomorrow's another working day. May you be blessed with some rest, clear vision, and resolve for whatever good work you can do in making America live up to its greatest promise.

Which is, I'm pretty sure, something deeper, richer (in the spiritual sense), and better than a nation of people with granite countertops and jobs with benefits, and people. . . without them. We seem to have slipped, those of us on both sides of the equation.

Happiness will come along with doing the work well. That's what Grandma would say.


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