Saturday, July 16, 2011

saving Fluffy

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When he was alive, my brother-in-law Tony once asked me as a news person why there couldn't be a news outlet that specialized in good news. Parroting one-time news guru Walter Cronkite, I replied that "news isn't about how many cats didn't get up on the garage roof." Good news tends to segue into self-serving smarm whereas bad news tells people how they need to defend themselves.

But there was an element of Tony's question that beckons and whispers. Why is it that people are at a loss when things are going well, when there is no need to be on the defensive, when there is no struggle or effort to improve or correct anything?

I grew up in an era that could lay claim to a president who had a plaque on his desk reading "The Buck Stops Here." No doubt Harry S. Truman had skeletons in his closet, but it was consoling and somehow inspiring of trust that a president or any leader might even make such an assertion of responsibility. Richard M. Nixon can take a large measure of responsibility for eroding if not eviscerating any sense of trust the public felt for its government. The Watergate Scandal was a deal-breaker. And the best Nixon could manage before he was forced out of office was, "I am not a crook." Not "I am responsible. The buck stops here," but "I am not a crook."

In closely-knit neighborhoods, when the cat gets up on the garage roof, neighbors gather round. They put their heads together because each may recognize a break in their doldrum lives and/or sympathize: Which one of us doesn't have some Fluffy we love dearly? One neighbor may offer a ladder or, in a worst-case scenario, someone calls the fire department ... and the drama gains a new importance and dimension. With luck, all's well that end's well and Fluffy is saved and purring and the adventure passes into neighborhood lore.

Good news is good news. A sigh of relief is delicious. Trust in those who've "got your back" is reinforced. But now what? When everything is OK, is everything OK? When the immediate problem, the one into which so much effort was invested, is solved ... well, what sort of peace is it when the war is over?

Yesterday, on the radio, several sound bites depicted the views of 'ordinary people' as regards the raising of the U.S. debt ceiling. The press and politicians have yowled like beagles hunting the fox about the catastrophe that will occur if the debt ceiling is not raised. I, for one, don't doubt the potential for catastrophe, but the reaction of 'ordinary people' is largely my own. One fellow was caught at the end of a work shift. He cared, he said, but at the end of the work day, he was tired. He simply didn't have the energy to dance around the fires of impending doom. "It's not my job," he seemed to say between the lines. And I think he's right. He may be smart enough to see the consequences, but it really isn't his job. That job belongs to those who have taken it on as a job ... the ones who pointedly do not have a plaque on their desk saying "The Buck Stops Here." These are people who want the glory but do not feel personally responsible. No wonder the guy headed home from work is too tired ... he can see that those in whom he might like to place his trust don't really "have his back."

What about some good news, as Tony suggested? Reading the news this morning, I could feel a kind of gloomy lassitude settling in. I'm tired of bad news and, simultaneously, wary of what passes for good news. Without the facile cynicism that some might bring to bear, it does seem that mankind is a group best defined as those who can fuck up a wet dream.

And if that is so -- if "peace" is solely defined as the absences of war ... thus laying the groundwork for another war -- how might it be possible to find and sustain an honest peace, to stop fucking up a perfectly reasonable and delicious wet dream?

The only answer I can figure out is that each person needs to reflect on his or her own life. To investigate the separations and distinctions required in a world of good news and bad. If things can be OK, in what way are they OK ... who says so? And if they suck, in what way do they suck ... and who says so? Is it possible to regain a sense of trust without investigating the trust already invested? Can we really expect someone else to have our backs? Can we sneer arrogantly and dismiss everyone else as untrustworthy or conniving without first investigating our own trustworthiness?

And if things are "all about me," isn't there an imperative of some sort to check into this "me" about which all things revolve? If life is to be devoid of trust, who, precisely, is the one who is distrustful? Is it wise to trust the one who distrusts? Or trusts either, for that matter?

Good news ... the wet dream that for once is not fucked up ... the cat that did or didn't get up on the garage roof ... the peace that simply flows from inhalation to exhalation ... how about that part? Whose business is that?
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