Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 364 (047) Worry

Just as the sun set over the bay my wife and I happened to meet two neighbors also out for a late evening walk. Weather was the first topic of conversation. We knew nothing of weather except for that it was a wonderful evening. They knew of weather in other places – hot weather. “It has been the hottest summer ever for 21 major cities in the country”, Dan said. “Global warming”, he went on – and on, and on.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery

Can’t we even enjoy a sunset? Why is it that we must always have some major, insurmountable worry. I have worries enough about the cracked windshield, the discoloration of my toenails, the crick in my back. But no, on top of that the planet is burning.

When I was born we were deep into a massive world war. Millions of people fought and died. Tens of millions of others across the globe were starved, enslaved, tortured, maimed, and persecuted. We prevailed and somehow went on to new heights of consumption, expansion, and personal gratification.

And all of this just after the depression: jobs disappearing, land blowing away, families uprooted, food lines, winters with no heat, and banks with no money. It was a worry to everyone. I don’t remember the depression; before my time. But I heard tales of it from my parents generation. It was not a good time to be alive.

At age 10 I would spreading the Des Moines Register newspaper on the floor and gaze at the  picture page - black and white photos from the Korean front. The Chinese communist were pouring across the border. MacArthur threatened to lay down a nuclear curtain along the China/Korean border. Now that was something to worry about. Nuclear bombs had ushered out the worry of World War II and ushered in the worry of nuclear annihilation. This was not a minor concern. We were taught to, “duck and cover”. The communist challenge became an obsession. We counted nuclear warheads on colored charts. Breakfast cereal gave away plastic replicas of missiles intended to deliver. We had to be strong. And we definitely had to worry. Worry big time.

Not as if I didn’t have enough to worry about what with being a teenager. There was puberty and all the worries it prompts: summer jobs, cars and girls, athletics and academics – college and paying for it. Worries were not in short supply.

Sputnik was launched and we knew the USSR could reach us with missiles. The threatening nuclear cloud was no illusion. My wife’s uncle Frank built a real bomb shelter underneath his garage in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Food and weapons were stockpiled. The arms race was in full swing.

Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis.The naval basis on the east coast emptied out as I drove to Washington DC for the first time. Worry was very justified – big time.  This nuclear/communist threat blossomed in Vietnam. We had to not only protect our shores, but we had to protect all shores – no matter the location. We worried enough to sacrifice tens of thousands of our young men in a war. The war eventually ended but not our worries.

I wanted to think about passing college classes, getting a job, getting married, having children, paying the rent, but at the same time I had bigger fish to fry.

Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring”, and Garret Hardin published “Tragedy of the Commons” In 1969 I started teaching a class in Anchorage focused on those two books. We didn’t know what to entitle the class. We finally settled on a newly used word: “Environment”. The first question ask us was, “What is that about?” The following year the first celebration of Earth Day took place. The water, the air, animals and plants, the very earth that we inhabit was threatened by poisons, careless husbandry, exploitation, and calloused indifference to how we make money. We had something to worry about now. And it was all tied up with the exploding, “Population Bomb”. We didn’t have a chance at survival. The earth was awash with people. We would soon all starve and kill one another in the basic struggle for survival.

This worry has morphed into the phrase, “Global Warming”. Environmental crisis has been with us for a long time. But, it seems like most of civilization is just waking from a forty year sleep.

Then came 9/11. Terrorist became another major concern. We sacrificed many of the liberties and freedoms guaranteed in our constitution instantly. The legislature approved unprecedented powers to the president. We should worry about our local sewage treatment plant, our water supply, our ferry terminal, our airports and shipping ports. Nail clippers are instruments of terror, Shampoo bottles are confiscated at airports. What is going on here?

As we gazed at a beautiful red sunset my neighbor insisted on one last shot. “Pollution from China drifting across the Pacific is responsible for the beautiful color,” he said.

I just wanted to enjoy a sunset: now and then ride my bike, play my guitar, or talk to some friends. Worry is something I would like to leave behind at times – even for just a few hours – especially at sunset.

Maybe we just need to establish a few hours each day for no worries; sort of a no worry zone. Or perhaps it would be better yet to just establish an hour a day to worry and then have the rest of the day to enjoy life.

This is Retirement Talk.



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