Friday, November 29, 2013

On Thankfulness

This is the time of year when Americans reflect on what we are thankful for. Those in committed relationships should be thankful that they were able to find someone to share a lifetime of romance. My wife Annette, my partner for over 55 years, is the greatest blessing of my life. Close behind must come the blessings of family. Humankind has organized itself in nuclear families since, as the Greeks used to say, “time out of mind.” My children, their spouses, and my grandchildren have enriched my life beyond measure.

Those of us who live in free and open societies should be especially thankful. Too many of us take the blessings of liberty for granted. Far too few of the world’s citizens live in open societies. Billions of others live in states ruled by despots for whom the welfare of their citizens is not a consideration at all. Winston Churchill once said that, in a free society, if one receives a knock on the door in the dark hours of early morning, it is probably the milkman (as opposed to a squad of secret police coming to arrest you).  Freedom of speech and religion exists only in free societies. In most of the world, the press reports only what the government approves.

Anyone who has access to modern medicine should be thankful for it. When I was a young man, life expectancy for an American man was about sixty-nine. Now it is approaching eighty. And the additional years often provide a much higher quality of life. If you do not indulge in self-destructive behavior (drug use, smoking, overeating to the point of obesity), your chances of having a long life are quite good. How to make the same level of care available to all is one of the world’s biggest challenges.

I’m thankful to have lived in the time and place that providence allotted me. My parents and their ancestors lived much harder lives than did my generation. I lived in an age of opportunity in which it was possible to quite literally live the American dream. Coming from relatively humble circumstances, education opened for me the door to upward mobility my grandchildren may never enjoy. My “golden years” are presently very comfortable. The innovations introduced during my life are mind-boggling. So far, I’ve been able to sort of keep up, but the adeptness of my grandchildren with electronic devices is astonishing.

I am also thankful for a relatively long life. In Greek mythology, Achilles was given the choice of a short life of fame or a long but common life. He chose fame, and died young outside Troy with a poison arrow in his heel. Odysseus, on the other hand, lived a long life and visited much of the known world. Alfred Lord Tennyson described the wisdom of Odysseus gained in his poem, Ulysses (the hero’s Roman name).

I am a part of all that I have met.
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough gleams
That untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
As though to breathe were life!
Life piled upon life were all too little
And to me little remains.

And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

I have experienced a wide swath of history, some of it good, some of it discouraging. I continue to be an optimist. Somehow, we humans always seem to muddle through to an acceptable solution to most problems. Given the choice of Achilles, I would choose to live long.  
Note: Warren Bell is a historical fiction author with two novels released and for sale either for Kindle or in paperback from  Both are set during WWII, with Fall Eagle One taking place in Europe, and Hold Back the Sun is set in the war in the Pacific.

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