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And there arose a new Pharaoh in Egypt …

February 17th, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

These are the words of a Torah portion that we read just a few weeks ago.  Here I am in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and in the three weeks that I’ve been here I don’t think I’ve had a single conversation that didn’t get around to “what the hell is going on and where are we headed?” How can I possibly not write about the shift in the world? Any thoughts that I had about my life in retirement have now entered another realm.  I know that Walt Whitman said: “let your soul stand cool and composed before I million universes” but I’m not sure that he meant this in a real-life way.

Okay, I admit that I’m writing about this from a pretty privileged position.  I’ve been able to escape some of Toronto winter and so I can sit here at a table in the sunshine at the “biblioteca” sipping an iced Americano, sun in my eyes, laptop inIMG_5047 front of me, listening to the sound of the water from the fountain in front of me and snippets of conversations in English and Spanish happening all around me and the music of the two young men having a guitar lesson behind me.  Does it get much better than this?  Indeed, I was just interrupted by a man from Grosse Point, Michigan, who was walking by and noticed me from the subtlety of the ring on my finger.  But I digress.

When I started writing this blog I was worrying about – okay, I’ll admit it, anxious about – what life would be like when I could no longer rely on my professional identity.  I thought about a lot of what ifs at the time since I had forgotten to plan what I would do after retiring other than that I wouldn’t be going to my office every day. In preparing for a 15 minute”pitch” with a literary agent today at the San Miguel International Writers Conference I found an interesting piece of research done at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. How to stay “in the loop” was one thing that kept me awake nights; I’d spent so many years not only knowing what the hell was going on but working from within government so I had at least a little say (or a heads up … or so I thought).  But now I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe to the one from which I retired just 8 years ago.

When I retired, although there had been a huge drop in the stock market it was still a pre-9/11 world.  People felt fairly confident that nothing horrific would happen to them, that their communities and schools were safe, that the air was breathable and the water drinkable. There was still a sense of hope around international lifechangesissues like the future of Israel and we even thought we might make real inroads on reducing poverty and homelessness.  How to use my time to contribute in a positive way was a matter of choosing among a number of options all of which held out a sense of hope for improvement.  And so I made choices, walked down a number of different roads, re-adjusted expectations and found that after a few years I had a new “niche” in which to feel comfortable and significant.  According to American film maker Ira Sachs “all history is defined by shifting modes of reality and time and how things change.”

But come on.  Let’s get a grip.  There is a reality and there are facts and there aren’t inauguaration 2017alternative facts.  In the book 1984 by George Orwell (read it now if you haven’t, or re-read it if you have) there is a line that comes to mind.  “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command … and if all others accepted the lie which the mall womens marchParty imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.” Isn’t this just what we’re seeing day after day as the pharaohs of America – and their surrogates – show us pictures of near-empty malls and insist that they are full, or tax returns – which may not be legally mandated but are clearly historically mandated – are not filed and revealed.  These aren’t imagined images – they are real photos.  The disaster that looms around us is also real!

Well, I’m off to hear Lisa Moore speak shortly (a terrific Canadian author) and then a bit later in the day – after I “pitch” my own book – I’m hearing Billy Collins (a US Poet Laureate) speak.  Then it’s a lovely dinner with new friends I’ve met here.  I’ll leave you with two thoughts.  Rahm Emanual said that “you never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that (I mean) it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”  So let”s not just sit around asking about what the hell is going on, let’s each find some way to do something about it, whether it be raising money to give to Planned Parenthood as my sister Fran Elson is doing, or organizing demonstrations  and protests.  And from the esteemed Dahlai Lama: “Time passes unhindered. When we make mistakes, we cannot turn the clock back and try again. All we can do is use the present well.”

Stay calm.  Find the beauty in each day and the love in each heart.  Pray.  Dance. Dream.  Care for one other with compassion.  Hasta la vista!

  1. February 20th, 2017 at 07:34 | #1

    As a sometimes blogger, I admire you for broaching the topic of Trump, even though you never state his name. I also admire the fact, that you offer some positive suggestions of how to deal with the reality that he is the President;

    What I am observing, and it is not just your comments, is an obsession of our time, which I call “Trumpetitis” a disease that infects every media commentary, all social intercourse and is starting to approach pandemic proportions, and feeling like mass hysteria. It is causing a categorical divide, pro and con, and little or no dialogue, As one old enough to remember the Cold War, I am hearing echoes of the past articulated as “better dead than Trumped”.

    Let me state categorically, in the vein of another era, “I have never been a member of the communist party” and for that matter, never been a member of any political party, or supported any political party financially. I am also a refugee, a holocaust survivor and well aware of the history and terrible impacts of fascism, racism, discrimination etc.

    What I find difficult is that with the outpouring of rage against Trump, and he is an odious personality, there is hardly any discussion of why he was elected in the first place (ie. the roots of the discontent) and what should be done now that he is President. All of the focus is on finding fault with all his actions and utterances, despite the fact that he has changed very little if at all, from Trump the candidate.

    Criticism is valid to a point, but when the same mantra is repeated, over and over again, signing petitions, sharing the rage by clicking like on Facebook, may make us feel we are doing something, but is hardly likely to change the facts on the ground.

    I am much more optimistic about the future, in part precisely because there is a vocal outcry, and more so due to the fact that there are various checks and balances built into American institutions, midterm elections in 2018 and my belief that views from the outside and within the Republican Party are far from uniform. It is from the resolution of the divergent views of stakeholders, that some better outcomes might emerge. Listening to the likeminded and the media mantra of the sky falling, will only enhance the demand for valium.

    Trump is a change agent and some of his views on protectionism, buying American, concern with the working man are straight out of Bernie Sander’s playbook. For two generations, a two state solution to the middle-east peace has not had any success. Appeasing the military ambitions of Iran, China and Russia has not lead to more stability. The benefits of international trade are valid, but the unintended consequence of producing and consuming cheaper and cheaper goods, have negative externalities. Bringing a different perspective has risks, but so does perpetuating the present trends.

    I am hopeful that there will be some deeper discussion on the ever increasing economic disparity between the rich and poor nations of the world, the growing economic divide within our own societies and the harm being done to the planet, in a head long rush to consume.

    One aspect of immigration that rarely gets mentioned is the “brain drain”. We enrich ourselves when our selective immigration policies favor the best and the brightest from countries much poorer than us. We then give token foreign aid to assuage our guilt. From our travels I can attest that there institutes of science and technology, medical colleges every where in India and immense competition to get into such institutions. Why can we not educate our own leaders of industry and medicine? Why do we deprive nations much poorer than our own by taking their best?

    (According to the Canadian point system, an immigrant needs 67 points to enter Canada under the Skilled Worker provisions. You get 25 points if you have a doctorate, and 5 points if you have secondary school credentials. You get 12 points for age 18-35, and deducted one point if you are aged over 36 until age 47.If we truly felt that as a generous host nation, we wanted to improve the wellbeing of the less fortunate people, surely a random selection would be more ethical?)

    We should also ask, who benefits from cheap labor, legal or otherwise, other than the well to do, who can have fresh strawberries most of the year, cheap household help, benefits from low prices in construction or help in the dark rooms of our restaurants. How can wages rise in America with 10+ million illegal workers, most of them without documents, working illegally, driving without licenses taking whatever opportunities available to them?

    The biggest culprit of course is our own value system. We decry climate change, but eschew any personal responsibilities. We drive our gas guzzling SUVs or pickups, buy imported foods and stuff from every corner of our planet, and think nothing of reusing, reducing or recycling.

    The refugee crisis, and not just from Syria, but Africa and Asia is an immense problem. Sadly, the numbers and the origin of refugees to be admitted to western nations that are being debated, is a drop in the bucket. The Syrian war, has created about 5 million refugees outside the country and 6 million displaced within Syria. World wide there are about 50 million refugees. Clearly, the most effective way to deal with refugee problem is to find peace and economic opportunities in Syria and wherever there are mass exodus of people. Dealing with the root causes is far more important and challenging that dealing with the symptoms?

    I like your suggestion: ” .. let’s not just sit around asking about what the hell is going on, let’s each find some way to do something about it… raising money to give to Planned Parenthood” is a good suggestion.

    As would asking some hard questions about own immigration policies, importing the cheapest goods available from distant parts, and examining our own behaviors to repair the planet.

    hope you take these comments in the positive light they are intended.

    andrew

    [Reply]

    Sylvia Solomon Reply:

    I just watched a film “A Day Without A Mexican” which tried to – and I think quite successfully – work with the premise that one day Californians wake up and the Mexicans are all gone. There is a reason why Mexicans risk their lives crossing into America and it is based on the “American dream” that has been sold in films, books, TV shows forever it seems. I see the Mexicans here in San Miguel de Allende and they are working hard, but a taxi ride all the way across town anywhere is 40 pesos which is $2. In Toronto it costs more than that just to climb into a cab. What I saw in China last fall – a desire shining in the eyes of 1.3 billion people to pursue the motto “the ones with the most toys when he dies, wins”. There has got to be a readjustment all around and there’s no doubt we’re already feeling a readjustment in how government governs. Just remember, if there’s something going on that you don’t like, DO something about it.In the words of the late Shimon Peres: “People waste too much time thinking about what to be. The problem in life is not what to be, but what to do.”

    [Reply]

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