My daughter is walking now…well, actually, she’s running, in the stagger-sloppy way of all toddlers that careens close to the edge of disaster. Against all evident laws of gravity, she manages in her travels to hold it together. God watches over drunks and small children, it has been said, probably because they walk the world exactly the same way. I watch my little girl stumblebum her way across the yard, and my breath catches when she careens, and then she rights herself, and rumbles on.
I am her father. It is my sworn intention that she grow up to be and do as she pleases – if she wants to sell apples out of a barrel by the side of the road, or go to law school, or make matches in a factory, or become an Olympic athlete, or shine shoes, or whatever, because it makes her happy, then I will be happy, because it is what she wants to do – but I stand before you a man afraid, because it is also my sworn intention to give her the chance to choose her own path as best I can.
I’m not sure how much of that is going to be within my power to do for her. It’s a hell of a thing to raise a child in the dying empire of a dying country stapled to a dying economic paradigm within a dying ecosystem. Corporations are people, my friends, but actual people don’t matter as much as fracking and oil spills and coal exports and tar sands and pipelines and endless, bottomless greed.
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Here’s a fact: the ocean is coming. Big cities and small towns alike, especially along the Eastern seaboard, are watching their shorelines disappear as the waters lap higher and higher against the steel and concrete of our seeming invincibility. The world saw what happened to New York City and New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy, and according to all available estimates, that is but the beginning. NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia has spent $43 million over the last five years to shore up its collapsing beachhead. Five years on, a third of that work has been washed away.
Just for fun, though, let’s ignore the 99.999% certainty that we’re responsible for this onrushing cataclysm, and just for poops and giggles, let’s say the planet isn’t about to digest and defecate our species like a bad bit of mayonnaise on moldy bread. Let’s pretend everything is environmentally fine.
Wages have been stagnant for a couple of generations now, so I will have to make a point of teaching my daughter that old Ramen is yummy, how to slick-talk your landlord when you can’t make rent, and that The American Dream is just a story she might read about in History class, provided that she actually has the chance to take History and actually has a textbook, because of budget cuts, don’t you know. I will have to successfully rob approximately 1,372 banks in order to afford college for my daughter, which she will only be able to attend if I can get her there by way of our cratered and cracked and crumbling national infrastructure. Someday, sweetie, it will all trickle down. The TV told me that, so it must be true.
Don’t you worry, my love, I’ll whisper to her. The multibillion dollar F-35 boondoggle that doesn’t work and nobody wants is protecting you. The billion-dollar Osprey deathtrap that kills Marines almost every year is protecting you. Exactly fifty-three cents of every tax dollar I pay is spent on the “defense” of you, so they tell me, a vast swath of that money going to the CIA and the NSA, so if you’re not happy about it later in life and happen to mention it, believe me, they’ll hear it.
Hush little baby, don’t say a word… Papa’s gonna buy you a new Blackbird… called the SR-72 that goes Mach 6… and if it doesn’t work, they’ll tax me for the fix… wait… that’s a terrible nursery rhyme.
Welcome to your future, little girl.
Or, you know, not.
All I have, all you have, all we have, is the power to do good and right within reach of our arm. I can’t defeat ISIS, or suck the oil and oil-cleanup contaminants out of the Gulf, or imprison the people who wrecked the economy and laughed all the way to the bank, or imprison the people who started wars based on lies and torture and also laughed all the way to the bank, or break the “defense” industry over my knee and redirect their engorged funding toward the greater good, or stop the seas from rising, or the polar caps from melting. I can’t end greed, or hunger, or hatred, or disease…I can try, and do every day, but it is the equivalent of yelling at a thunderstorm. No matter how loud I shout, I still get wet.
I can do the best I can within reach of my arm, one reach at a time. I can remember, and hold dear to heart, the verse of activist Daniel Berrigan: