5 January 2011: What matters most in life

What matters most in life

A truism generally true, which then, on second thought, might disqualify it as a truism, is that a puppy can cause even the toughest macho man to melt. The qualifier is in context of the guy accused of stomping his girl friend’s puppy to death because she didn’t return his text messages. How’s that for macho? It’s so bad Michael Vick seems relatively noble when it comes to dogs.

Working, being friends, and otherwise dealing with folks from all over the U.S. has taught me there are differences in the way people from the various geographical regions approach life. In the hill country of western Pennsylvania for example, life is an endless battle with many hills to die on. Then candidate Barack Obama spoke truly about them bitterly hanging onto to their guns and religion.

Mid-westerners, especially those from the northern tier of Wisconsin and Minnesota, seem to be most willing to put life into perspective, accepting it not with a sense of fatalism but of pragmatism.

We in Colorado tend to mirror our heartland cousins, despite the fly-in-the-ointment Colorado Springs bastion of fundamentalism, but that in turn mirrors our national paradox.

We can be a whiney people on occasion, despite believing for no logical reason we are exceptionally blessed by God, a modern-day Chosen People. Although some Americans literally believe in that “exceptionalism,” probably about the same percentage that believes in the literal creation myth of Genesis, my bet is that most understand that globally we’re one of many, albeit one with bigger bombs. In the end, Americans pull their trousers on like every other earthling: one leg at a time. We are democrats, after all.

The idea of American exceptionalism is so ingrained in our psyche we believe that we have to be Number One forever, which, in case you haven’t really considered the thought, is a very long time, the way every empire has considered its potential hegemony since at least the ancient Assyrians. America is just the latest in the string of dominant world powers, succeeding Britannia, which, if you recall, once ruled the seas.

Although occasionally whiney, we’re a hardworking people. That characteristic can be traced to the Puritans, along with our hang ups about sex and nudity. In recent times, many have been forced to work two or three jobs either to make ends meet or to set aside some extra cash for otherwise unaffordable luxuries such as a family weekend ski trip.

Gone are the glorious liberal days of the Eisenhower Era in which the working class—albeit white—was able to maintain a middle-class lifestyle with only one income. Now we’re told because America is going broke we need to downsize our pensions and so-called entitlements including Social Security and Medicare, which is bovine feces, but, nonetheless, is being ingrained into our national psyche as deeply as is American exceptionalism.

Working with the public in my position at the Mary Jane ski area has proven to be an ongoing learning experience. I keep gaining intriguing insights about our culture by observing the manner in which individuals handle situations, both simple and stressful.

It’s fascinating to watch well-heeled folks of privilege flip out over some trifling matter such as a black-out date on a coupon or Four Pass. I find myself asking them if they have ever heard about “reading the fine print,” which we all have, except for in my case, which is in itself a personal rendition of national exceptionalism: I’m special so am exempt from the rules all others need to follow.

It’s fascinating to watch as well the vast majority shrug their shoulders and accept disappointment casually understanding that in the big picture of life, forking out a few extra dollars during a ski trip is not catastrophic. Haiti is.

The real puppy-dog moment comes when I hand out complementary stickers. Then, there is no age difference between kids, only physical size. The smiling eyes and wide-toothed grins a simple “No Pain / No Jane” sticker elicits are priceless. And each is exceptional, which conversely then makes them unexceptional because each understands, even if unconsciously, that that sticker is a symbol of their eternal youth, for them having never completely grown up to the point of being austere characters their Puritan ancestors were.

Life has its setbacks and challenges, but not allowing them to get one down is the ultimate challenge. Nothing is forever, even America. Everything, as the Buddha has taught, is impermanent. No thing has intrinsic value and substance. Only our thoughts and actions ultimately matter.

My new year began with the Solstice. Yours likely began with the calendar year. Regardless, it’s time for renewal and resolutions. Make celebrating life among them. Happy New Year.

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