Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The View from the Street: It Matters Which Way You're Looking

The other day my husband and I were taking our morning walk. It was a beautiful fall morning. The sun was shining and the sky was a pure, translucent blue - on the right. On the left, the sky was angry and black and looked ready to dump buckets on us any second.

On my daily walk to my office I cross over an old bridge that separates two communities. The Willamette river underneath is broad and swift. On the right side of the bridge is the waterfall; a crashing, thundering, powerful display of water. I always walk on the right sidewalk because I love watching how the waterfall changes with the seasons. I also love the power of the pounding water.

The other day, I decided to cross over to the other side of the bridge. To my surprise, the water view there is calm and peaceful. Fishermen relax in their boats. Ducks gently bob along.

It's the same river, but the views from different sides of the bridge are dramatically different.

It was the same sky that morning, too, but the view to one side was sunny and beautiful. To the other, the sky was frightening.

It's a pretty good metaphor for today's social and economic outlook, I think.

If we look in one direction, we see deep recession and worrisome prospects for our future, both personally and as a society. That direction looks powerful and frightening.

But when we turn our heads just a little we can see the other side of the picture: the side that is filled with great human compassion, creativity and ingenuity. We can see hope for a future for ourselves, our families and our children that is brighter than today; that is calm and peaceful, too.

I think particularly about the view of today's typical family. The middle (sandwich) generation worries about their own eventual retirement. They worry about how to provide and pay for care for their aging parents (and maybe even grandparents). They worry about paying for their children's college education. The view, especially considering the changing demographics and the economic outlook can be very frightening.

And yet when we consider the other view, we see a society that has progressed in a few short years from one in which the average person never lived to see 60, to today's increasingly common centennial birthday. In the past century, in fact, the life expectancy for most Americans has increased 30 years.

During this time, we've developed options for supporting our seniors, too. No longer is it only family care or nursing home care. Now, we not only have assisted living options that are designed to sustain quality of life as well as provide essential support, we have a growing army of in-home care providers, the fastest growing segment of senior care providers.

We have creativity and good old fashioned neighborliness to consider, too. When was the last time you needed help, only to have a "good Samaritan" stranger or neighbor happily step up? It happens every day in our country, and it is only a small indicator of the abilities we possess to share the burdens as well as the joys.

It can be easy to give in to Wall Street's panic and the social prognosticator's predictions of unmet needs. I believe, however, if we just turn our heads we can see the other side of the picture and use our energy to help make that view - the one that is filled with hope and quality of life - a reality.

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