Enjoying best of times, but what of the future?
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Saturday, November 26, 2011

No longer forward nor behind, I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find, the best of now and here.

—John Greenleaf Whittier, American poet and abolitionist;
born in Haverhill, Dec. 17, 1807, died in Hampton Falls, N.H., Sept. 7, 1892

I wish.

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 War.

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 welfare state.

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 this year.

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 from it.

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.

But, traveling 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 lungs.

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 climate age."

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.

Family members 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.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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