A TREMBLING WORLD – Part Three

A TREMBLING WORLD

Part Three

Wednesdays with Dr. Joe

About twelve years ago, a high-ranking Colorado state representative spoke to our local Kiwanis Club.  He was uncharacteristically somber, as he put on his prophetic hat.  In so many words, he predicted that within about ten years—even if relatively flush times continued—Colorado would begin running out of money: “We are coming to the end of an era, Friends.  Social Security, born in the depths of the Great Depression when life expectancy was around 45 to 50, was feasible and possible for our nation to continue; but FDR had no way of knowing that life-expectancy would move up and up and up until today it is nearing 80, with many Americans living on retirement for a longer period of time than their career years (many into their 90s, and even 100s), placing an insupportable burden on a retirement system based on 65.”

He continued, “Mark my words, we are fast reaching the time when Social Security and guaranteed medical assistance will have to be curtailed.  You will no longer be able to assume the state will cover Mom’s late life medical expenses; we will once again, as Americans did up until the Great Depression, face a world where families took care of their own, where all three generations lived in proximity to each other—they had to.”

So it is likely that Obama’s dream that all Americans will henceforth be guaranteed cradle-to-the-grave healthcare may very well be the swan song of Social Security as we once knew it; now we are discovering that the money just isn’t there for such a utopian concept.  Exacerbating our fiscal plight no little is the double whammy of America’s continued substance abuse  (drugs/tobacco, alcohol) and out-of-control eating, together, through diseases such as lung cancer and diabetes, killing close to a million of us a year..

Metaphorically, it’s like America is waking up after a sixty-year binge (made possible by credit cards and houses used as glorified ATMs).  In Christmas in My Heart 13, my wife Connie tells of a Christmas during the early 1950s when en route from California’s Monterey Peninsula to her home in Fortuna (near Eureka), a major storm blew in, the Eel River flooded and washed out Highway 101 in places; so Connie and others were stranded in Garberville.  The lady who was driving them home hadn’t banked on a flood, having just enough money to cover the gas costs to get them home.  Not for motels and extra food.  So what did they do?  They agreed to do the motel’s laundry, make up the bedrooms, etc., in return for having a room to sleep in.  For since the motel manager didn’t take checks and credit cards didn’t exist yet, you either had money or you didn’t.

As our son Greg said recently, “Dad, for 50 years we’ve been spending money we didn’t have.’  Up until three years ago, at least twice a month we’d get calls asking us if we didn’t want to take out another loan on our house.  Those days will most likely never come back, at least in our lifetimes.

More and more of us today are either using only debit cards or charging only what we can pay off at the end of the month.  We do this because many of us live in perpetual fear that we will join those who owe more than their homes are worth, so that, if we lose our jobs, we too will be forced to declare bankruptcy and be evicted from our own homes.

Across the nation today, our grown children, unable to even get a job, are forced to remain at home with Mom and Dad.  Those who predict the economy has rounded the corner and heading up are proven wrong again and again. The world’s leading economists are grave, warning that it might be years—even decades—before we regain what we had three years ago.

Just as was true with the Great Depression of the 1930s, this one is global too, so there is nowhere to escape to.  Also, just as was true when Teddy Roosevelt became President close to 110 years ago, never has the gap between the rich and the poor been as great.  Even while the banks and corporations are failing, unbelievably they continue to pay their CEOs millions a year.  Same for sports stars, landing contracts in the hundreds of millions while schools, libraries, parks, post offices, etc., are being forced to lay off employees or close.  Misplaced priorities are all around us.

However, if a crash does come—it won’t be all bad.

More on that next Wednesday

Caribbean Sea Days – Part Two

THIRD SEA DAY

It would be five days before we were blessed with another sea day—reason being the distance between Grenada and the Netherlands Antilles.  It proved to be a quiet day in which to recuperate from getting up early in order to explore island after island: St. Maartin, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Barbados, and Grenada.  Needless to say, it was needed.

We did little but play a game of “O Henry” (also called “Aw Shucks,” and worse), a variation of dominoes.  Other than that, we loafed, strolled around, and watched the sea gulls lazily circling the ship.  In the evening, a second formal night.  By now our waiters (Lazaro from Honduras, and Michael from Serbia) were old friends.  Since our table is right next to a window, we’re able to watch the sunset, followed by immediate equatorial darkness.

Afterwards, I hit the upper deck for fifteen laps.  An unknown beauty passes me again and again in the half-lit track; in dramatic contrast are the obese walkers who can barely move, the smokers who can only sit, puff, and idly watch those of us walking or running off our calories.  Then back to the room.  Tomorrow will be a long day.

FOURTH SEA DAY

Once we bid good-bye to Bonaire, we’d not make landfall for two and a half days.  Dinner, dominoes, listening to Jasmine and her trio perform Latin classics, followed by a forgettable torchy singer and a comedian who managed to be funny without resorting to night club language, completed our day.

We woke the next morning to heavy seas.  So much so that pre-breakfast on the veranda was impossible.  Whenever the hallway door was opened, and the veranda sliding door was open, the wind would shriek through like it was a wind-tunnel; in the process smashing glasses.

After breakfast buffet, I headed down to the purser to settle accounts (I’ve learned to check out early in order to avoid having to stand in long lines on the last day).  Made sure that Tondi, Lazaro, and Michael received generous gratuities, along with support staff.  We’ve learned that most of those who work on cruise ships are paid precious little, consequently, unless passengers are generous with their tips, the room attendants and waiters are likely to return home after nine months at sea with very little to show for their work.

FIFTH SEA DAY

It’s always sad to wake up to your last day at sea.  As a writer, it is the time when I reflect most, watch people most, and devote the most time to my journal.

On this day, I was once again overwhelmed by the obesity epidemic (two-thirds of Americans being classified as obese, one-third already with diabetes).  The situation tends to be even worse on cruise ships.  On the decks, day after day you see the same obese people flopped out in lawn chairs like so many walruses (hour after hour, dawn to dusk, there they remain, when not eating).  Even on shore days, there they stay, unwilling to go ashore because there they’d have to walk.  On the ship, they line up in lines waiting for an elevator; almost never will they take the stairs.  I couldn’t help thinking: What a national tragedy: Two thirds of Americans now classified as obese, one-third of all Americans now diabetic.  Almost half a million dying every day—same as for smokers.  The two epidemics are killing almost a million every year.  What a waste!  How many bright futures blighted and snuffed out!  How many sorrowing families deprived of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

And as I couldn’t help but notice how many stayed on the ship when in port, unable or unwilling to experience another country and its people, I wondered why they’d spent all this money to travel here in the first place.  I wished I could freeze the action on the ship and shout out, “STOP!  Wake up and save yourself before it’s too late!  From this moment on, monitor every bite you eat, count the carbs, and limit yourself to no more than twelve choices a day.  Vigorously exercise a minimum of 30 – 45 minutes a day.  Take the stairs instead of the elevators.  Never smoke another cigarette in your life!  Wake up and live so I can meet you again!”  But of course, I didn’t; I could only weep inwardly.

And I thought again about the incredible difference friends make in our lives.  Each one (noted by C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves) opening a door into our personality that no one else ever will; when that friend is gone, the key to that door goes too.  As John Donne put it long ago: each one that goes takes part of us with him, with her.  So as Bob and Lucy, Ed and Jo, and Connie and I explored the ship and the islands together, dined together, watched programs together, played games together, and shared memories together, I thought again about how very much friendships like these enrich our lives, and how much we treasure each one.

I thought too about what little money each of us had, and how some might consider travel to be a waste of money.  Yet it is said that when each of us comes to the end of our life’s journey, we may have many regrets—but none of us ever regrets the memories we made, the friends who enriched our lives, the insights we gained and the difference we made in the lives of the people we interacted with in our travels.  Always, in travel, we should give more than we take.

Our head-waiter Lazaro -- from Honduras

That last dinner was poignant as we looked at each other around the candlelit table.  At our ages especially, how many more times might we be privileged to travel like this with each other?  Our waiters who were not now mere waiters but friends we’d come to love and appreciate; same with Tondi and the support staff.  They’d come into our lives, and in fourteen short days, we’d left them.  Would we ever see them again?

Jo and Ed waving napkins as waiters brought in the Baked Alaska

At the conclusion of that last dinner, suddenly the waiters all disappeared, then in a long succession of bearers of Baked Alaska, they streamed down the stairs, and we clapped our appreciation as they came.  For each of them lived for more than meager pay and inadequate tips: each of them yearned to be appreciated, cherished, loved.

As did we.

Bob and Lucy at dining table

Next morning, we woke to the prosaic Fort Lauderdale dockyard.  It was over.  Our island in time—all cruises are that—was but a memory.  Yet, each of us, when life closes in on us, may  retreat through those memories into those all too short days and nights on the Caribbean Sea.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we invite you to vicariously come along with us to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia as we guide you through our 29th annual Zane Grey’s West Society convention.