For want of a nail, the shoe was lost…

It’s been a depressing couple of weeks.  I’m pretty much disabused of any optimism that the nation will take the long view, that cooler heads will prevail, that great leaders will inspire the people to make necessary sacrifices and put the ship of state on a steady course.  I’m reminded of the old nursery rhyme my grandfather used to recite, that starts with a missing nail on a horseshoe, and ends with the loss of a kingdom.  An incompetent small-time politician botches a special election here in Massachusetts, and in the process snaps the tiny thread holding the tepid remains of healthcare reform above the abyss.  The reform was a shadow of what it might have been, in part due to the obscene influence of corporate money, and the Supreme Court clears the way for the same corporate interests to vastly expand their malfeasance.  Perhaps most distressingly of all, the strategy that proved most effective against reform was not shopworn anti-government ideology, but willful ignorance and the shamefully unrealistic notion that people should be able to get however much medical care their hearts desire, and somebody else will magically pick up the tab – “get your government hands off of my medicare.”

Health care reform should have been the easy part – the lack of reliably affordable healthcare is tearing at the social fabric and sapping our national competitiveness, and practically every other modern country has universal insurance.  The failure of the smartest, most progressive government we could reasonably hope for to make this happen is a black, black omen.  It is not difficult to predict that nothing substantive will be done to address the massive shortage of jobs that’s plaguing the nation; we will not invest seriously to realign the nation’s energy supplies with the emerging global reality, and there is not an ice cube’s chance in hell that we will do anything sufficient to even begin to address global warming.  In fact, the above outline (in which basically nothing happens) is probably a best-case scenario – there is enough diffuse, roiling anger rising in the heartland to make gridlock seem like nirvana.

Some people have a deep abiding faith in the goodness of humanity to lift their spirits in times like these; others have a higher faith and are mentally prepared to write this life off like a bad loan.  As for me, I plant apple trees.  An orchard of trees on hardy seedling rootstock will provide food, spirits, shade, and beauty for generations – with care the trees will outlive anyone now alive.  As the arc of my life approaches its middle years, it is a great comfort to be able to see the work behind me and the work yet to be done, not abstractly in the trajectory of a career, but concretely in physical earth, on a rocky hillside with clouds and seasons passing.  The crisis of the moment always has its allure, but the human race has been through times much darker than these, and through the darkest of them the vital substance of human life remained – we need the fruits of the earth to make our daily bread.


4 Responses to “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost…”

  1. krill Says:

    Beautiful post, Ben. Thanks. I sent it on to a bunch of friends.


  2. Will Says:

    Have you ever read Candide? It’s a good book for times like these and it shares the same moral as your post. Last year, I saved seeds for rootstock. Maybe this year I’ll find someplace to plant them.

  3. G'ma Says:

    Ben–yours is a very healthy philosophy of life. I’m going to sprout my peas today so they’re ready for planting later this month. Love the earth and all she gives you–spiritually, materially, peace of mind and soul–real comfort in trying times.
    Love to you and Alexis

  4. Patrice Avenia Says:

    I like the layout of your blog and I’m going to do the same thing for mine. Do you have any tips? Please PM ME on yahoo @ AmandaLovesYou702

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