Three years ago about now I filed for retirement. I was in a hotel room in Colorado Springs and I had just spent the morning looking at houses. If I had been able to buy one that day, I would have. But, I couldn’t… It was what I needed, though, to wake me up to the fact that I was done and the chips would fall as they would fall.
I’m one of the lucky people. I ended up with enough money to move, to buy a house — well, acquire a mortgage — and to settle in a new place with an income that’s livable if tight. It includes amazing insurance, and, thankfully, so far, I’m also in pretty good health. I have internal and external resources, and I’m mostly happy. I’m still adjusting to this, though. One big difference between my younger life and this older life is the proximity of the destination. Another is my body doesn’t work as well and sometimes, often, that’s frustrating and sometimes it makes me sad. We spend a lot of our lives working toward the time when we’re not working any more. I loved my work, so it didn’t feel that was what I was doing, but still, I was doing that.
I feel that I’ve been very successful in my life. I have all that I need and a smidgeon left over. I have friends and abilities and, overall, a good outlook. Sometimes I can’t believe my luck because I didn’t plan this. I just fell into it. I’m lucky because I have three amazing dogs and live in a beautiful place. I feel like a rich person because I AM rich in things I care about.
I read the news often these days (it’s hard to look away from a train wreck) I wonder what Old 45 would make of my successful life. I’m pretty sure he would not understand it at all, no more than I understand his. Everything he has, does and represents is a huge mystery to me. I don’t understand the desire for masses of external symbols of wealth. I don’t want power over anyone. I don’t respect anything he has ever done or been, but for years I taught people who did. Once, in the first year I was teaching Business Communication, one of my students said, “Why should you teach me? When I get out of here, I’ll make three times what you do.”
That started an argument in the classroom. Some students said, “You need to learn what Martha has to teach if you’re going to make that money. Communication is everything.” The response was that if I could do it so well, why wasn’t I out there making the big bucks? Someone said that teachers don’t care that much about money. I just let them at it. I thought at the time that in their future, they’d be working with all kinds of people, some like me, some like them. They were unwittingly simulating a discussion between managers. When they were finished, the “winners” were the loudest, most aggressive and relentless.
It is an unbridgeable gap between the externally and the internally motivated. If Old 45 were to land his gold-plated helicopter at the park two blocks away, and walk around my neighborhood, he’d see “losers.” If he stopped to talk to the people out raking leaves, tending their bulb plants, chatting with their neighbors, picking up their mail, they would make no sense to him at all. He would not understand how my neighbors and I are happy with our lives and ourselves and what we do every day. He would not understand why I love my little Ford Focus that has only 30k miles and new tires.
The only way he can “understand” us is when he stands in front of a large crowd and controls their response to him. And they, caught up in the moment, may have forgotten that when they get home, they’ll grill hotdogs for their grandkids, talk about the old days and, and worry about why their own children have been lost to heroin addiction. He takes them out of the reality of their lives for a while, and they’re thrilled to think that a big golden guy like that “understands” the problems of their lives. They year for the material things he represents. They, too, measure their value and success by external wealth.
Over the last couple of days I’ve read about a “crisis of despair” among older white people and the theory that that led to Old 45’s victory. I think there might be something to that, but the bigger, underlying problem is our idea that success is measured in externals. Virtue is rewarded materially, meaning if we’re not “good enough” we’re not going to “have enough.” I think somehow there needs to be a cultural shift away from this idea of “the good” but that cannot happen as long as so many of the disenfranchised whites are also buying into the church of money, Christian fundamentalism.
It’s a complex, intricate problem. Despair looks for a magical escape elixir, heroin or Donald Trump, the “First Time Free” man is always a con.