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It was a tough year.
Two wars. Iran exerting destabilizing influence on the Middle East. Russian aggression in Georgia. Instability in Pakistan. Someone, I wonder who, trying to start a war between Pakistan and India. Pakistan responding by shifting troops from its border with Afghanistan to its border with India. Continued craziness in North Korea. And, that’s not to mention numerous other hot spots such as a new coup in Guinea and fighting in Gaza.
At home, we still haven’t been able to solve some persistent and fundamental problems. Our military is staffed by a narrow cross-section of the country, while bearing the lion’s share of the foreign policy burden. Our immigration policy is in disarray. As is our health care policy. Not to mention our unsustainable Social Security system, state government and private-industry pension programs.
Our economy has burst and is behaving like the balloon it was: sputtering and flitting this way and that, and, all the while, downward, dragging everything with it. Everyone I know has college savings plans or retirement accounts that have shriveled to a pittance.
It’s enough to drive a guy to drink.
In the midst of all the gloom, I read that people don’t seem to be feeling as bad as expected. The explanation: misery loves company. People feel bad when they look around and see other folks doing better. If they look around and see that everyone else is just as miserable, then they don’t feel so bad. It’s not the most noble sentiment, but apparently, as real as any.
When I was very young, my mom read me “Winnie-the-Pooh.” A.A. Milne’s stories about a honey-loving bear and his friends: a piglet, donkey, rabbit, kangaroo and boy named Christopher Robbin. I remember that Eeyore the donkey was blase about birthdays. He didn’t understand the point, and I didn’t either. I understood cake and ice cream and presents. But what are they, after all? Here today. Gone tomorrow. It all seemed to impermanent, ephemeral, meaningless.
As I have grown older, my thinking about birthdays has evolved. Perhaps it’s just the law of scarcity and now that I have fewer left, I value them more. Whatever the reason, I am now more an adherent to the modern American philosopher D.E. Clark when it comes to birthdays, events, and life in general. I am past the point when I desperately searched for the best party to attend on New Year’s eve. But I still say celebrate.
Clark has written that the object of life is not to arrive at the finish line in a body that is in pristine condition, looking the way it did the day you drove it off the lot. Rather, the object of life is to skid across the finish line sideways, banged up and bruised, but exclaiming, what a ride!
So despite the bad news of 2008, on this New Year’s eve I drank a cup of kindness to old times gone by and partied like it’s 2009. I hope you did, too.
Halsey Frank is a Portland resident, attorney and former chairman of the Republican City Committee. His column is published monthly.