Thursday, October 29, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
For the seventeen years I’ve been living in Germany, my favorite way of describing the difference between Americans and Germans was to use the train-station illustration. If a German and an American were waiting for a train in a station with no announcements and no signs on the platforms, the German would sit until kingdom come before he got on a train that might be going the wrong direction. “The American,” I have, until now, proclaimed confidently, “would get on the first train out of there and then hop back off again if he found it taking him somewhere he didn’t want to go.” But thanks to the current debate on Healthcare reform, I have had to eat those words without any sauce to help them go down. Where did all those rugged, brave Americans disappear to? What has happened to their adventuresome spirit? What awful specter has struck this paralyzing fear into the hearts of my fellow countrymen?
During numerous failed attempts to convince friends and loved ones of the merits of getting on the Healthcare Reform Train, I believe I have caught glimpses of the apparition which is haunting them: The Spook of Slippery Slope. The logic is always the same: “If we take a left at this intersection, we will end up in Communist China.” “If you follow this to its logical extreme, you will see how dangerous such a first step actually is.” “Give ‘em a hand, they’ll take off your whole arm.” The most extreme example of such arguments came before Obama’s election in a letter from James Dobson from the year 2012 of an eventual Obama administration: A worst case scenario of all loathed liberal ideology; a conservative’s “Nightmare on Main street!”
Unfortunately, the scare tactics haven’t disappeared with election defeat. Blocking the way to meaningful reform is a large minority of Americans who appear to be stuck in this ideological cul-de-sac. In continuing to defer to some extrapolated future nemesis, this “un-American” brand of conservatism is not only holding the country hostage in “juncture station,” it is also dodging its responsibility for the actual and current suffering in America and is eluding the necessary systemic evaluation and reform of our run away free market. These voices of caution might imagine that they are trying to save Americans from some future calamity which reform would bring upon us, but many Americans are living through tragedy now, for which our present, undeniably flawed healthcare system is responsible. The fox is in the coop with a hen in his mouth, and some would warn us to barricade the farm house against an inevitable poultry revolution!
Of course there are “slippery slopes”: If I open a bag of chocolate chip cookies, chances are I will eat them all, and it is probably not a good idea to try heroin even once. But reality rarely fleshes out this law of extremism. When I leave the house and hang a left, I usually make a right before too long, and then another left and so on, until I get to Starbucks, to work or to my hairdresser. Most of us, most of the time, don’t dump the whole bottle of Tabasco into the chili, don’t place all of our money on one horse or press the petal to the metal just because the speedometer says we can. Most of us, most of the time, live our lives within the bounds of moderation and are better off for it. I have every confidence, that after hanging a right eight years ago, Americans can safely make this little left turn toward a pronounced healthcare reform guaranteeing everyone affordable quality coverage without waking up to find ourselves on a non-stop train to Animal Farm.
Monday, October 12, 2009
I guess she was only doing the natural thing. How many times had she been in the car, when we stopped at a pile of junk in front of some building to look for something that seemed “interesting?” The three old wardrobes (two of which we have passed on to friends or family), tables, fold up chairs, old wood, stools and even picture frames are now a part of our home ensemble thanks to a habit both Jan and I have picked up from our parents: scavenging! Don’t anybody get grossed out, we don’t go through people’s garbage cans, just the bulky furniture and old “stuff” that people don’t want or need anymore. What in the states would probably be a sure sign someone had been evicted, is called “Sperrmüll” here in Germany. We clean out our basement about once a year, call the city’s waste management department and make an appointment for our stuff to be picked up. We then organize it into very tidy piles of metal, wood, and plastic the night before. The pile usually inspires the neighbors to do a bit of spring cleaning themselves, and so the pile grows (and then inevitably shrinks a little again) by morning.
One day this past spring, Christa, my then 7 year old, still 2nd grader, comes home to tell me that she passed by one of these piles on her way home from school. “There are some chairs.” I “should go check them out.” I guess I was really busy that afternoon, because I didn’t squeeze in even a few minutes for my compulsive hobby, wasn’t swept away by the usual fantasy flow, that maybe someone, unbeknownst to them, was throwing away a valuable retro-designer piece. Next afternoon my then 7 year old, still in 2nd grade, with a heavy school bag on her back, on an unusually warm day, comes home carrying one of these chairs!
If I had fallen in love with the chair, I would have rushed out and retrieved the other three, but I didn’t. Realizing what Christa had done, however, I knew that I was going to have to get creative with this chair. My little dumpstering daughter was just too adorable. Of course I took my time getting around to the project, so it wasn’t until months later, once we got back from our summer vacation in England and still had lots of good weather for working outside, that I got to work filling out the dents, sanding, spray painting, removing the nasty layers of fabric and then covering the seat with a fresh new, but retro floral fabric from Ikea. The neighbors were intrigued. I love the chair now, and regret that I didn’t go back to get the other three when I had the chance.
What took one sentence to describe, tho, took hours and hours to actually do. Our “new,” “free” chair wasn’t free at all. The swath of new fabric wasn’t costly, but the two cans of spray paint weren’t cheap, and if I would charge a decent hourly rate (a local charges 30€ an hour), few could afford to buy the chair for the amount I would feel obliged to write on a price tag. One could say, that a chair which had lost all of what value it might have once had for its original or previous owner, has become priceless to its new owner (me) primarily because of her own attitude and actions toward the afore mentioned furniture. This activity of making a renewed, creative and significant investment in an object, a system or a person, so as to reclaim its lost or inherent value, or uncover its possible/potential value is what I call Redemption. It is one of the most beautiful words in the English language, an immensely profound reality, a “deep magic” existing since even before the foundations of the world. Redemption is the ultimate joker; it’s the ace up a sleeve. I feel mischievous, almost cunning, when I have succeeded in turning something found on a garbage pile into something beautiful and functional, like I’ve circumvented some ubiquitous consumer principle; outwitted the odious constricting tentacles of decay, deterioration, and yes, even death itself.
The Redemption Reality offers us a way to view not only broken and unwanted things, but broken and unwanted people, broken relationships, dysfunctional systems and miserable circumstances. For a Redeemer, each is a challenge to be creative, make a significant and personal investment and cheekily break the rules of death and decay in order to make something beautiful and of immeasurable value. In this vein, beauty truly is in the eye of the Redeemer. I am immensely pleased that my daughter seems to already be infected with this kind of foresight.
Friday, October 9, 2009
herzliche einladung zu einem konzert mit der kanadischen folk-rock sängerin
LILIOM, unterer graben 1, augsburg
karten für den abend gibt es im LILIOM oder bei lee fischer