Published in Lititz Record-Express, 9/23/21
A short time ago somebody wrote to this paper concerning my column on Vaccine Passports. He accused me of constantly “fear mongering” in this space. Instead of immediately rejecting that notion, I did what everyone with strong opinions should do when those opinions are criticized. I considered the possibility that he might be right.
Thinking about the columns I’ve been writing here for more than six years, some have been whimsical, some more contemplative. But, yes, many have been filled with fear. Still, to paraphrase the old saw about paranoia, fear is real when there’s really something to be afraid of. In this particular case, it didn’t take very long for the fears about a deadly new wave of virus that I expressed in that column to come true.
I’d actually had a reckoning about my negativity prior to that reader’s comments while listening to one of my favorite songs, “Down Under” by Men at Work. Always a bit confused by their Aussie patois, and given my current interest in their country, I decided to look up the lyrics. That led to watching a number of You Tube videos and generally arriving at the conclusion that this was a very patriotic song. These guys were extremely proud to be Australians, at least the macho part of being an Australian. Which led me to ask myself if I still had that kind of feeling about my own country?
Perhaps my doubts started with the Vietnam War. Despite enlisting in the Army at its height, much of my youthful patriotic fervor was dissipated by both my military experience and in watching that war end with that last helicopter lifting off the embassy roof in Saigon. True, Desert Storm made us proud again, but son George and his ill-advised foray into Iraq started a fire in the Middle East that has resulted in several more bad endings. There was some respite during the Obama years when he made the crucial pivot toward Asia. But his non-existent “red line” in Syria was revealing of his actual softness in facing our international challenges. Between Bush and Obama, it was like two-thirds of Goldilocks, and I was left waiting for national leadership that might be “just right.” I’m still waiting.
Foreign policy SNAFUs aside, America, inside our borders, remained something to be proud of. At the turn of the century we had out-lasted the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War, and the burgeoning digital age, scientific and medical advancements, and full-blown prosperity truly made us the shining city on the hill. There was hope that we actually were on the verge of a new age of global enlightenment. But all that seems to have evaporated.
It’s really hard to believe that we have squandered so much of our international prestige and our national self-esteem in such a short time. Externally we’re no longer trusted and respected. Internally there’s an insurrection fresh in our minds, an unwillingness to use the tools at hand to fix the current public health crisis and a seeming reluctance even to acknowledge the longer-term calamity that threatens to force us back to living in caves. So I’m not just afraid. I’m terrified.
In his late years, my old man thought the world was going to hell, too. And that was 40 years ago. Could it be that all of this, the COVID, the climate change, the disintegration of our democracy, are just illusionary metaphors for the fact that I’m about to be 75 and can probably count on my fingers the number of years I have left? Is that what I’m really afraid of?
Maybe so. But, aren’t you afraid, too?