Decisions, outrage put on hold until Labor Day
© by Barbara Anderson
The Salem News
Thursday, August 23, 2007
The only way I'm going to get some vacation time while it's still summer
is to tune out, drop out and ignore all bad news.
I need a break from outrage about, in no particular order -- government
in general, public pensions and unmaintained infrastructure in
particular; illegal immigration; cruelty to animals (give me a chance to
gamble on Michael Vick, unarmed, vs. a pack of pit bulls); sub-human
beings who abuse kids; drug dealers, dictators and drunken drivers; and
the people who pay attention to nothing but the sex lives of
I'd become a Buddhist and study equanimity, but even thinking about it I
get outraged about what the Communist Chinese did to Tibet. Which
reminds me of how outraged I am about poisoned toys and dog food from
China; and, yes, what the Turks did to the Armenians. No Place for Hate,
indeed. There are a lot of things going on in the world that we need to
It's also good to think broad philosophical thoughts about freedom vs.
security, which by the way, is often at the root of the debate about
The debate is legitimate when it addresses the validity of a particular
war, or how well it is being run. But the people who talk "peace, love
and understanding" are making a choice, stating that freedom isn't worth
a fight. They're foolish, of course, to think there can be safety in a
country that isn't free, that is governed by Nazis, communists,
fascists, psychopaths or religious fanatics; and their naive
self-righteousness outrages me.
Where is that book on Buddhist serenity? Breathe, breathe.
Let's talk about my goldfish.
Fish swimming in a tank are supposed to be a calming influence on the
modern, distracted mind, just as cats are supposed to lower blood
pressure. I buried the ashes of my cat Tandy last weekend and am no
longer stressed by trying to decide the right time for euthanasia. Now
there's just me, my overgrown goldfish Moby, and the mouse that moved in
when the cat was gone.
I should probably adopt another cat before I get attached to the mouse.
The fish is not a calming influence. I get claustrophobic watching it
swim three laps and turn in the 20-gallon tank. I was planning to use my
sales tax holiday savings, and more, to buy a larger tank; but then I
was given an opportunity to release Moby to a large pond to live with
other fish. Now I am stressed by decision-making.
What do I do? Keep him safe here with me, who feeds him, makes sure his
water is clean, and talks to him now that the cat is gone? Or do I set
him free? (More or less - I wouldn't just drop him off in a wild pond
with the wrong pH and herons and kids with fishing poles).
In the book "The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel, there is a discussion about
zoo animals, which Pi's father says are fine with their lives because
they get what they want - safety and regular feeding. The freedom thing
is simply ascribing human desires to animals. I'm not sure about that. I
think that leopards and gazelles, for example, are meant to run, even
though they run after and away from each other respectively.
It's true that our dogs and cats adapt to limited freedom. My friend
from Living Aquariums says that goldfish don't have much memory
capacity; so I don't suppose Moby would miss me if I gave him away. Yet
"The Little Prince" is responsible for his rose, which I assume has even
fewer human characteristics than a fish. Maybe I need a pet rock.
The vacation I'm looking for is a vacation from outrage, decision-making
and responsibility for anything but myself. Once upon a time, I grabbed
my passport and a knapsack to go a-travelin'; strong and determined to
travel the open road, like Walt Whitman, more or less. Now I'm not so
strong anymore, the roads and bridges are crumbling, and flying isn't
the fun experience it used to be.
I'm glad I spent time in my youth diving into lakes, pools and the
ocean; climbing around mountains; exploring ruins and castles; strolling
the streets of Paris, Rome and Stockholm; filling an adequate-size
tourist seat in a plane going to Australia or Greece. My vacations were
usually unstructured; freedom was everything. Safety rarely entered my
mind as I hiked alone, took rides from strangers, and drank foreign
Now I'm content with a quiet afternoon reading in the hammock. There is
enough freedom and illusion of safety here for me. In a perfect world,
there'd be a cat on my lap and a large goldfish pond near the tree.
But as noted above, this is not a perfect world. I'll have to settle for
a perfect August afternoon, with decisions and outrage deferred until
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.