Recently, a friend and I were talking about where we are in our lives, and where we are isn't exactly where we thought we'd be. We'd both figured that by our fifties we'd have a stash of money in a savings account, helping our kids pay for college (without the loans -- dream on) and that we'd be contemplating retirement.
Here's the reality: We work harder now than we ever did during our twenties, thirties and forties, and we're earning way less money. Our down time is spent recuperating from our jobs, catching up on laundry, grocery shopping and general household duties. Spending relaxing time with our families is becoming rare as our general quality of life is on a downward slope, just like some of my body parts.
While our paychecks have decreased dramatically, the cost of living has soared. Ten years ago I'd walk out of the grocery store with a trolley full of grocery bags that maybe cost me $125. Those days are ancient history. Now I'd be lucky to get three bags of groceries for that amount of money.
There are days when I find myself in the tiny organic section of Vons, looking at a somewhat droopy stick of celery. It's taking a pounding from a hidden hose that's shooting water directly onto the greenness -- trying to secretly resuscitate it. I begin dreaming about the Whole Foods organic, locally grown fruit and veggie section where insect-bitten stalks of celery stand at attention in their bins waiting to be spritzed by delicate grocery clerks.
Family vacations are tucked into the dream category of my wish list, along with painting the house, renovating the bathroom and trading up my car to an electric or hybrid. Honestly, by now I thought I'd be living in a solar-powered house with a built-in composter that automatically fed my free-range chickens while they frolicked in my back yard filled with organically grown and raised crops.
But alas, with the time my husband and I spend at work, we're lucky to find the time to venture out to our garden, let alone nurture it. The only TLC it gets is from the free-range gophers. They tenderly aerate the ground beneath the citrus trees and build new paths where no man has walked before. One evening, while taking our canine out for his nightly pee before bedtime, I stood silently wondering why the earth was moving in front of me before I realized that I was witnessing a mole bulldozing his way around the garden. I didn't know they could move so fast.
Multiple times a day, I receive emails from a broad spectrum of non-profits asking for monetary donations -- from the Democratic Party, National Public Radio and children's welfare groups to animal rescue organizations begging for money to save the green-horned, ten-legged brown ant's habitat in Ventucky. I wish I could give generously to all of them, but those days are gone. The ant tugs at my heart -- what to do, what to do?
So what has happened to the middle class in America? What's happened to Democracy in America? In an effort to find the answer, I decided to put off vacuuming the house and instead sit down and do some research.
Reaching for my dog-eared copy of Alexis De Tocqueville's, Democracy in America, I allowed myself to be transported back to 1831, when the young aristocratic Frenchman and his companion, Gustave de Beaumont, arrived in America. But I couldn't help myself - moments from The Black Adder began creeping into my head. Phrases like, "Sissies and weeds, and whoopsies and big girls blouses," took away my seriousness and I decided to contemplate De Tocqueville at another time when I could give him the time he deserves.
I parked myself in front of the telly and stared at the remotes, trying to remember which one turned on what. Twenty grueling minutes later and after multiple texts back and forth to my sons, the screen magically came to life. I watched Stephen Merchant on Bill Maher.
Why is it that in a five-minute interview, one English comedian gives the global warming issue clarity in a simple sentence? "If it's not true (global warming), let's assume it is, on the off chance, and do something about it. Because if it is true, we're all f-----! That has to be the sensible approach." Yes, Stephen, it is!
We worry about our lives -- paying bills and health care, the smog in China, radiation from Fukushima, wars and brutality, bullying and hunger, guns and disease. Our lives are complicated.
Feeling grateful for the rain that has begun to fall, I find solace in listening to the raindrops on the roof. The kitty is curled up beside me and the pup is asleep at my feet and tomorrow I get to visit my sons. The time has come to snap out of this existence and be like the water flowing down the street -- to keep moving forward, around, over and under -- just keep moving forward -- like the mole in my backyard.