2010-07-09 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Finding The Way
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

If we wait long enough death comes to us all. In the past couple of weeks the mothers of two of my colleagues in the community passed away and, just the other day, a young man I had watched grow up, who had played as a boy with my own son (before they had grown apart in their teens), succumbed to the ravages of cancer. I watch his parents now, moving slowly from their car to their home, lost in the world of their deep sorrow. I don’t know what to say to them. Words seem useless. What can they do? Can they take away the pain? Change what happened?

I grew up here in Rockaway (at least in my teen years), before moving back, after marrying and starting my own family, and have many good memories of this place. But the recent spate of deaths around me reminds me of some bad ones, too. They remind me of my father’s own inevitable loss of health and decline, shortly after my wife and I had settled here again, and of how I had watched from a distance as he slowly made his way down the street to reach the corner mailbox each morning before turning and agonizingly working his way home again. Each day he would walk more slowly than the last, his lips and skin progressively bluer, his breath more labored.

I remember seeing the crows perched on the roof of his house in those days, seeing them really for the first time and thinking it’s an omen of the bad that’s coming. Of course I had probably seen them many times before but they had never registered. Now they had.

Only a few years ago an elderly neighbor of mine died suddenly. She was well on in years and the last time I saw her she was sitting on her porch as I opened my front door to go inside. We spoke briefly as we usually did and it struck me at the time that she didn’t seem to hear my words (she’d been losing her hearing for quite a while). She seemed forgetful, too, telling me things she had told me many times before. I guessed that she just wanted to talk and stood there a few moments exchanging pleasantries and listening. When my wife and I had first moved in she’d seemed old to us, too. But we were younger then. Now in her eighties, she just seemed tired and confused most of the time. Shortly after that moment on the porch, she slipped and injured her hip. Her doctor had her check into a local hospital and she died suddenly while there from an infection no one expected. I never saw her again after that time on her porch.

My own stepfather hangs on a thread now, too, sinking daily into the haze of his Alzheimer’s disease. The doctors recently discovered an aortic aneurism near his heart which, they say, could give out at any moment. If it does there’ll be nothing they can do. The old man, at 96, is too frail to withstand

surgery to fix it and so we wait as he lives out the last years of his life lost in half-dreams, remembering less and less each moment, unable to see or hear well and never quite sure what’s going on around him or who’s there with him. At times he remembers enough to realize that something’s wrong, that things are different than he vaguely recalls they should be, and then he’s baffled and angry — and scared. But he forgets almost as quickly as he remembered and rapidly slips back into the now more familiar state of his cloudy unknowing. Maybe it’s better that way.

A few people asked me recently why I gave up my column in The Wave. Well, the answer is I didn’t. I just took a break at the suggestion of Wave editor Howie Schwach because I’d reached a point of exhaustion from the seemingly relentless deadlines. I’d carved a niche for myself complaining about the unfairness of the mass media but Fox News kind of elbowed me out of the way with daily coverage of that issue

and, while The New York Times continues to dominate the national print media, no one thinks they’re even handed anymore! The Wall Street Journal meanwhile, much fairer in its reporting and with a conservative editorial slant, has been rapidly moving in on their territory. In a sense this “new” media has put me out of business!

I had another reason for taking Howie’s suggestion to take a sabbatical, too. I’d been working on my fourth book (and second novel) for several years and, sad to report, it hasn’t been going as well as I’d hoped. So far, in fact, it’s proved the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. By the time I started complaining to Howie, I had gotten to a point with it where I just didn’t want anymore interruptions. I didn’t want to take my eye off the ball, even if I never quite seemed able to catch it! So letting the Rockaway Irregular take a little nap, as Howie suggested, seemed like the right thing to do.

But the recent spate of deaths in the community have reminded me of something else. Our lives go on despite the losses. Things catch up with us. And here we are, going into yet another political season, this one more important, perhaps, than many past election cycles. Someone has to talk about it. Someone has to flag the issues that so often get lost in the hullaballoo of big media nonsense or partisan babbling. This year’s election, indeed, may be the last chance we have to stop what’s been happening to this country because of runaway spending that’s exploded the national debt in an orgy of deficit financing, an orgy to which many of us seem to have only just awakened.

From the trough of the 1980’s, when newly instituted conservative policies

released the economic energies of the nation after the sinkhole we found ourselves in during the 1970’s, we’ve reached a point where the lessons of the past seem to have been forgotten in the

partisanship that passes for debate these days. The policy changes of the eighties ushered in an era of wealth creation which those of us who grew up in the fifties and sixties could only dream about back then. Who would ever have imagined this new world of ours with desk top computers and cell phones, iPads and Kindles? A world of easy passage through the skies to all

points on this planet and of high def TVs and, even, 3-D? The only science fiction still missing is moon colonies,

clones and flying cars. But they’re not unimaginable anymore either.

Not unimaginable, that is, if we can halt the self-immolating policies that have already led to curtailment of our space programs as the administration pumps ever more stimulus dollars into the economy (though they continue to fail to stimulate anything); as Congress and the President pass a healthcare reform package most Americans don’t want and which is now projected to cost substantially more than the legislators who pushed it through claimed at the time (did anyone really believe them?); and as financial regulatory “reforms” come down the pike with more restrictions on economic activity and tax increases — while ignoring the two home loan organizations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which pitched us into the recent fiscal crisis in the first place.

Massive new tax increases loom in the wings because of all this spending, as does incipient inflation, after a round of destructive deflation, of course, due to economic implosion. And it doesn’t look like anyone can do anything to stop any of it. Many of us old enough recall what high tax rates did to the economy the last time around (in the late 1960’s and 70’s) are astounded at how Americans have forgotten the lessons of the past.

Death, when we see it take those we know or love, is a painful reminder of what’s out there waiting for all of us. It’s hard to see how anything else really matters in the face of it. But life

is death’s denial because life is action and choice — and the choice is ours once again, come November. Do we leave a legacy of bankruptcy to those who follow, an America on the skids and dependent on the handouts and tolerance of others? Or can those who come after us still dream of ending their century as we ended ours, with this country still pre-eminent, still powerful and still the freest land on earth?

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