No longer forward nor behind, I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find, the best of now and
Whittier, American poet and abolitionist;
born in Haverhill, Dec. 17, 1807, died in Hampton Falls, N.H.,
Sept. 7, 1892
I don't have a
problem with being grateful, or taking the good, the best, now
and here; and on Thanksgiving I do live in and enjoy the moment,
along with the turkey, and the relaxing into the holiday.
But I know there
won't be much good for which to be grateful unless we look
forward in both hope and fear, after looking behind for
understanding of what can go wrong.
One thing for which
I am grateful: Getting old. Not because, as they say, it's
better than the alternative; but because getting old today means
I've lived through the best possible time in history.
1943, the United
States of America: What a perfect place and year to be born!
Long before I could be aware of its horrors, World War II would
be over, my country the victor and now the greatest, most
powerful nation on Earth.
Men in my age group
would go to war, but only if they volunteered; the Vietnam draft
started for the high-school class that followed mine, and the
draft ended when my son was 8 years old. When he reached
fighting age, President Reagan was beginning to end the Cold
1943: The year that
mandatory withholding was started to help fund the war effort.
Unfortunately, it continued thereafter, enabling the federal
government to collect, without risk of annual taxpayer
revolution, sufficient revenues to fund a vastly expanded
The taxes weren't
nearly enough, of course; the national debt reached 120 percent
of GDP after World War II, and while that was paid down to 32
percent when I was 30, it has just exceeded 100 percent again
The difference was
that when I was young, debt was something that both the
government and individuals considered necessary only for
extraordinary essential expenses, to be paid off as quickly as
possible. Now some see no shame in charging current government
operations to future generations, or finding a way to walk away
The year I was
born, everyone was too focused on war and then recovery, to
worry about the environment, which was pretty good unless you
lived in places like Los Angeles or Pittsburgh. I recall a
school trip to the latter after which our clothes and skin were
sooty; but at home in the nearby western Pennsylvania hills, the
stars shone bright at night except perhaps in the fall, when we
walked through the haze of burning leaves, enjoying that
traditional autumn smell.
north, you could smell Lake Erie as you approached and were
dismayed by the dead fish decaying along its shore. During my
childhood, Lake Erie was considered almost dead from pollution.
As a young Navy
wife, I lived in Long Beach, Calif. One day my husband, son and
I drove toward Los Angeles for a day of touring, but turned back
when the air pollution caused us to constantly yawn for air. We
drove to the beach instead, but couldn't swim because of a
recent oil spill.
So why was my
lifetime the best in history, environment-wise? Because as I got
older, the problems were addressed by government in its proper
protective role using the latest technological innovations.
Today, Pittsburgh is considered one of the nation's most livable
cities, and in Los Angeles you can sometimes see the nearby
mountains. And I get to remember the scent of burning leaves in
the fall, without having to actually take the smoke into my
Lake Erie's water
quality has improved, and some fish are returning, though
problems remain. I, however, now live near the Charles River, an
environmental recovery success.
In my younger days,
we were told to fear a new Ice Age; then it was global warming.
Either way, I'm glad I lived most of my life during the "ideal
When I was a child,
parents kept us close during the "dog days" of summer, fearing
polio epidemics. By the time I was a parent, the polio vaccine
had eradicated that fear.
whose parents and elder siblings had died young of heart
attacks, enjoyed a longer life because of medical advances. My
grandmother died of heart disease before I was born; my mother
took her meds and lived to enjoy a video of her great-grandtwins
just before she died at 86. Medical innovation is one thing that
is still getting better; as I get older, I'm grateful for that.
In other times, if
children left home, their parents might never see them again.
During my lifetime, travel became easy; people thought nothing
of driving reliable cars on good roads, over the hills and
through the woods to grandmother's house for Thanksgiving — or
just got on a plane. Flying itself was a great experience, part
of the fun of a vacation. This has changed.
More next week on
why my lifetime was the best in history. If the future looks
worse, it's not my fault! And I remain grateful for the good
I've found, the best of now and here.