Sunday, February 26, 2006

I'm not worthy

I was avoiding my grading virtuously and diligently searching out worthy blog posts to comment upon, when I re-read Bill Whittle's Sanctuary post. Please, if you haven't ever read it, stop right here and do so.

When I finished, I almost felt like packing up this blog - why do I bother, when there are those people who absolutely blow me away to do so much better in this medium?

Almost. Because the beauty of blogs is that it's an opportunity to take a look around from the inside of someone else's thinking, unmediated by an editor. And, good as Bill is, he can't have the same stuff inside his head as I do - different sex, different experiences, different temperament.

Sanctuary is a long post about the tremendous gift we in America have all been given.
And then, on the way to my stunning girlfriend’s apartment to bitch about how unfair life was treating me, I saw a fairly common sight in Los Angeles. I saw a group of young Mexican men gathered on a street corner, waiting for any kind of work.

And there, through some act of grace that occasionally opens my eyes and reveals to me a better person in my reflection, I suddenly realized that these men are waiting – fighting -- to work long, backbreaking hours for next to no pay. They sleep in small, cheap apartments, hot-bunking it, working sometimes two or even three jobs and keeping nothing for themselves. They never eat out, never go to movies, and planning for a future is not an easy thing when every penny you make above what you absolutely need goes back home to Mexico to feed your family.

And I stopped at that light, and looked at these men. And I realized right there that I, this wide-eyed idealist that writes about America, am in point of fact exactly what is wrong with America today.

I make a fortune. I make a fortune doing creative work with gentle and funny and artistic people. On a normal week, I work from ten until six, three or four days a week, and all I do is sit behind a computer in a dark, air conditioned room and make decisions: who says what and who is looking where. And that’s it. For this I get paid in two to three weeks what these men will have to work an entire year of backbreaking, hopeless labor to achieve.

And there I am: bitching and complaining and wondering why things are not better for me. Boo-freaking-hoo.

This is the poison that will eventually kill us all. I should spend an hour a day prostrate and thanking God I was born an American. How many struggle and die for this privilege?
It's an even greater privilege for me, because I'm a woman. I can (and have) gone to school, not as a luxury, but my right. I didn't work to send my brothers to school.

I chose my own husband, lived where we wanted to, quit jobs I didn't like, raised three children without undue fear of them dying at a young age, traveled around cities and the country by myself unmolested, and and talked and argued (even in public!) with men whenever my ornery nature inclined me to.

I dress as I like, mindful only to cover up when the weather is inclement. I swim without fear of drowning due to layers of fabric weighting me down. I can smile and talk to strangers, without bringing down the morality police to beat and shame me into more modest behavior. Right now, I am (temporarily) living many miles away from my husband, managing my own money, buying a house, and working.

My husband frequently asks my advice. Sometimes, he takes it. He is not unusual. Many American men do the same. Many men think of their wives as their best friend. Imagine that!

I can attend any church, synagogue, temple, or mosque I want to, or not. I can vote, or not. Nobody tells me who to vote for (well, except for the many PACs, whom I ignore). There is no fee to vote, and no penalty not to.

When I am hungry, I can stop at a restaurant, fast-food place, take-out, or buy groceries and cook. Or, bring them home, and tell my husband, "It's your turn, I've had a rough day", collapse into a chair, and watch my choice of some hundreds of channels. Try that in any but the modern countries (and not even all of them).

Oh, on that TV. I can watch mindless dreck (sometimes I do) or improve my mind with free and public access channels. I can see movies, comedy, drama, re-runs, porn, or family entertainment. I can "attend" religious services from my recliner, buy clothes, exercise equipment, or kitchen stuff, or find out how to Make Money Fast in Real Estate.

Or, I can do what I normally do, bypass TV entirely to surf the 'Net. My choice.

When I do go into a store, I am surrounded by thousands of items, with endless choices - even in toilet paper (color, softness, 1 or 2-ply, single, four, or multiple rolls, quilted or plain, brand name or generic). I'm fairly exhausted by the sheer variety. And that's just toilet paper! One tiny part of many, many aisles of products.

I can be checked out by pleasant clerks, or be trusted to check myself out (imagine the trust level that implies). I can pay with cash, check, or credit card. I can have someone help me take the groceries to my car (my OWN car), or wheel them out and load up myself. And it doesn't take half the day.

When I go home, there's water on tap (hot and cold - even filtered), machines to make food prep and storage more convenient and safe (stove, fridge, coffee maker, food processor, electric rice cooker, dishwasher - that's just a few of the many machines available). Dinner takes just a short time to make - there's a cable show called 30 Minute Meals. No all day cooking over an open fire that takes precious fuel to create.

When I'm cold, I can turn up the heat from the little gadget on the wall. Or, I can get a sweater, one of MANY I own, if I'm feeling more frugal. I don't have to huddle with my family to share body heat. We have our own bedrooms.

When I take my clothes off at night, I have clothes to change into. The ones I take off, I put in a hamper, to wash before they are worn again. When I do wash, I put in the soap from the box I bought in the store, load the tub, turn the dial, push start, and walk away. I return later to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. It's a matter of a few minutes, not hours of dragging the clothes to the river, and beating them on the rocks. Or (yuck!) making my own soap.

After writing this, I can't believe that I complain as much as I do. I complain (sometimes) about having to go to work. It's well paid work, in relatively pleasant surroundings, indoors and climate-controlled. It's not dangerous. It won't shorten my life. They'll even pay me after I get old and decide I no longer want to work. They'll even give me enough money that I won't have to move in with my kids.

It's not just the stuff you can buy that make America so great - it's the fact that your life is your own.

Want to dress like an idiot? Go ahead.



Want to color your hair? No problem.



Want to sell everything, and ride around the country in an RV or on a motorcycle? Sure, many do. No passports or permissions required.





In a sense, every American hit the lottery - the day they were born in America. Think of it - unbelievable freedoms and opportunities to achieve riches beyond the dreams of most of the world. Just for being born.

Now, go and live your life as though you're grateful for the gift.

Tags = Culture

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