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Board of Contributors: From Sandy, a little bit of perspective

At the height of hurricane Sandy, my boys and I did something that most folks would consider crazy: We put on rain gear and headed out for a walk. Now, where we live in Deerfield, we are far from the coast, and there wasn’t much real danger so long as we watched for falling branches. And being a tropical storm, it wasn’t too cold, just plenty wet, and impressively windy. Being out there in the dark with the howling winds and drenching gusts was quite a thrill. Besides, there wasn’t too much to do at home. We’d lost power hours ago, and had already played several rounds of cards and one of Monopoly.

We don’t have a generator. Seems like an unnecessary expense, given that we usually cope all right when the power goes out. We’ve got a wood stove, candles and kerosene lamps, a gas stove with burners that light by match. Just put up water and don’t open the freezer. Power goes out so often these days, we’re used to the routine. But when it stretches into days like this one did (and that seems to be happening a lot more often, too) I do worry about the freezer. This time there was a year’s worth of meat in it; we’d just bought a butchered pig from a local farmer. Good food, humanely raised, decently fed, not saturated in hormones and antibiotics. Be a crying shame to lose that. Maybe we should get just a little generator, enough to keep the freezer going.

Back to our crazy stroll in the storm. As we walked down our road, we passed houses lit up like business as usual, monster generators cranking audibly away. My boys and I sneered smugly how we didn’t need no stinking generator. Some folks just can’t do without. But we’re made of tougher stuff. We manage just fine.

Now, to be fair, there are folks who need the power for medical reasons, to run equipment that their lives depend on. If you’re elderly you don’t want to be stuck in the dark during a storm with no heat or running water. And there are folks who make their living off the internet. To be disconnected is literally dollars out of their pockets. Or they have to stay connected in case they are needed for emergencies, especially during a major weather event. Other people are depending on them. Or maybe, like us, they are worried about a freezer full of food.

But let’s face it, most folks just don’t want the inconvenience. They don’t want to have their routines interrupted, or to deal with flashlights and flushing the toilet with a bucket of water. And heaven forbid they lose access to Facebook or miss their favorite TV show. They are willing to pay the expense of buying a generator and running it because, well, they shouldn’t have to do without.

That’s a very American attitude. Didn’t used to be. During the Depression, and during the world wars, people did without and were proud of it. Well, not always proud. A great number suffered in terrible poverty, especially during the Depression.

Still, when it came to making sacrifices and doing without, Americans were creative and ingenious about making do with less.

Then along came the Baby Boomers, the generation of spare no expense. We were told we deserved it; we were entitled to it; nothing was too good for us. So we grew up believing it and passed it on to our kids: You’re worth it, you deserve it, you should never have to do without. And thanks to credit cards and bank loans, we hardly ever did.

We’ve heard it for so long we hardly ever question it. This is America, the greatest nation in the world. We have the best of everything and should never have to do without. So when the power goes out, we don’t think in terms of making do; we try to figure how to have it all anyway.

Seems like the same sort of thinking is going on during these hard economic times. We’re all in favor of austerity measures. As long as they affect somebody else.

Because we shouldn’t have to do without. We deserve it. We’re entitled to it. Entitled to our benefits. Entitled to our profits. Entitled to our tax cuts.

Maybe it’s not our fault; it’s just the way we were brought up. But maybe it’s time to take a hard look at our attitudes and question what we’ve always taken for granted. And there’s nothing like a disaster and hard times to give us the perspective.

Who among us is really in need? And who just doesn’t want to be inconvenienced?

(Mel Graykin of Deerfield is a writer and freelance philosopher.)

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