With our national
Independence Day having been properly celebrated with flag,
fireworks and family cookout, I now find myself thinking about our
personal independence, 2013.
become rather self-evident that while, sure, weíre created equal and
endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, like Life,
Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, we Americans also seem to have
assumed once-alien rights to a Comfortable yet Distracted Life, the
Liberty to get bogged down in hundreds of choices and the pursuit of
Two things were
bothering me during last weekís heat wave. One, I was certain that
if the electricity failed, I was going to die. What would I do if
there was no fan in my bedroom window or air conditioner in the
living room protecting the fish in the aquarium?
My family, visiting
from a dry climate, appreciated that we could gather in that one
room to cool off, though my son said my fish are tropical, so what
do they care how hot it gets? Well, it seems to me that at some
point, even tropical fish can be cooked. There is a similar point
about humans having evolved near the equator, which may or may not
have been humid at the time.
People do live in the
tropics, though. The closest Iíve come was June í67 in the Florida
panhandle, in a mobile home, no air conditioning, gasping for air
the way a fish would gasp for water were he removed from it. The
humidity was so thick that it seemed one should be able to float.
isnít considered tropical, but I think there was global warming
during my childhood. My friends and I played tennis and softball in
the mornings but headed home in the midday sun to have tournaments
of board games in the cool basement. I donít remember my house
having fans, never mind air conditioning, though there was a
dehumidifier. No one seemed to complain much.
We hear occasionally
about frail people dying during a heat wave and are told to check on
elderly neighbors and relatives. I suppose if the electricity had
failed, I could have slept in my car, the first Iíve owned that has
I wonder how our
Founding Fathers had the energy during the hot Philadelphia summer
to pursue the right to the pursuit of happiness on our behalf.
I also wonder how much
of my current happiness depends upon my Tempur-Pedic mattress and
floor fan, not to mention screens and indoor plumbing.
The second thing that
bothered me was the realization of how I have become a servant of
the consumer society. I stand, paralyzed with indecision, in the
cereal aisle of the grocery store, overwhelmed by the variety. In
other aisles, I try to compute the coupon price against that weekís
sale or the usual unit pricing.
Last week, I needed
groceries but forgot to take my little packet, which for years Iíve
filled with coupons clipped from the newspaper circulars and sorted
into categories. Instead of searching for the brand for which I had
a coupon, I just bought what I wanted. Feeling oddly liberated, I
ignored the two for the price of one, and the 20 for $10 specials,
and just bought what I needed. It was ... amazing. I wonder: Can I
do it again?
Then, there are the
cards Iíve accumulated from various stores that make me a preferred
customer and give me a discount on something or a gift after Iíve
spent a certain amount; my wallet is stuffed with them. I often go
out of my way to shop at those stores, or respond to a special even
if I donít want it, or would rather try something else. Iíll bet at
least half of my excess pounds are the result of such responding,
along with television advertising. The craving for a bacon double
cheeseburger really doesnít come from my genes.
So I wonder: Is this
freedom, Thomas Jefferson, to have become a nation of Pavlovian
puppies? Or does our modern lifestyle simply reflect American
appreciation of all life has to offer, as well as a sensible desire
to save money where we can?
Maybe. But Iíll bet
thereís a connection with our recent inability as voters to sort
through the choices, the complexity, the clever advertising in the
electoral arena. Iím pretty focused politically but am also easily
distracted by a new issue. Why are we talking about racism all of a
sudden, when the national debt is approaching $20 trillion? What
part of illegal donít we understand, in so many areas from
immigration to the limited presidential power allowed by the
Constitution? Were we smarter voters when we had only a few
television channels to watch and no Internet?
I know one thing: If
all voters donít start taking some time from their pursuit of
comfort and variety to understand what is happening in our country,
the comfort and consumerism will go from being simple pleasures to
pathetic escapes from a hard lesson learned too late. Weíll no
longer have what really matters: our Right to the pursuit of the
real Happiness that is only possible with Liberty.