Things for which I would like to be thankful

Nearly every Thanksgiving, I write a column to remind myself of the many blessings I enjoy.  While writing the annual Thanksgiving essay on gratitude is useful for me, I recognize that it might get tedious for other readers.  This year, I’m taking a different approach and considering things I wish I could add to my list of reasons to be grateful:

  1. More knowledge, less ignorance
  2. A more peaceful, less violent world – includes wars, crime, domestic violence, etc.
  3. More capacity for self-reliance and more appreciation of our interdependence
  4. Better access to medical care worldwide (particularly for children)
  5. A cure for cancer – we keep making progress, but we have a long way to go
  6. Cure for mental illnesses – a much longer way to go
  7. Greater tolerance of our differences, particularly when those differences do nothing to threaten my family or me
  8. Better priorities – less greed, more equality
  9. Greater forgiveness
  10. More opportunities – jobs, creativity, self-fulfillment, freedom from repressive authority, want, fear
  11. New police and fire facilities in Albany

Depending on how specific I choose to be, I could probably produce a much longer list.  I stopped at 11 because I wanted to leave room to explain that I am grateful for the progress we have made on nearly all these issues during my lifetime.  Comparing my life to my father’s, he lost two sisters as young children who died of diphtheria and appendicitis.  He also lost a sister as a young adult to a medical condition that is easily treated today.  My father’s family endured the Great Depression, where they were fortunate to have potatoes but little else to eat.  I have spent some time in war zones, but my father served in two wars where millions of people died and where he was personally at great risk on many occasions.  His sacrifices helped make a better life possible for me.

Even though we did not receive approval to build new police and fire stations this year, I’m confident the community will develop a plan to construct them before long.  People are understandably concerned about costs and want strong assurances that they are getting good value before making a large investment.

I hope I can make some contribution toward achieving at least a few of the items on my list, and I know I can do more for several of them.  My Thanksgiving wish for all who read this column is a peaceful and happy celebration of what’s important to you with a person or people you care about who feel the same about you.

The More Things Change…

A few weeks ago, I came across a great book in the nonfiction section of the library entitled Blood of Tyrants.  I confess I was attracted by the lurid title which seemed to have a tenuous relationship to the biography of George Washington during the Revolutionary War that the book turned out to be.  Despite the misleading title, I really enjoyed the book.

I have read a fair amount about George Washington, but this book provided some great reminders of the challenges he faced, his remarkable character and the many parallels between Revolutionary America and our country today.  Washington, like many other leaders of the time and today, wrote extensively about the dangers of debt while at the same time incurring very large debts to achieve the revolution’s goals.  James Madison famously wrote during the period that, “Public debt is a public curse.”  Alexander Hamilton reported that the federal war debt exceeded $54 million in 1780, and Washington narrowly avoided a revolt by his own troops at the end of the war because they were not being paid for their service.  Apparently, we have always been good at talking about the perils of debt while being less effective at actually avoiding them.

Pundits today make large sums of money by pointing to the evils of divisive politics, but they would have had much better material during the Revolutionary War.  Americans were tarring and feathering, torturing, confiscating property, and periodically killing one another over political disagreements; and Washington was in the middle of many of these issues.  He actually made the case for torture and mistreating British prisoners as a means of protecting his own troops who were suffering similar treatment from the enemy.  Washington was more protective of property rights, arguing against unlawful confiscation of Loyalists’ holdings, but more than willing to hang anyone with or without due process who he believed was guilty of spying. 

The world is obviously a much different place than it was during Revolutionary times, but we continue to wrestle with many of the same problems and moral dilemmas.  It is a tribute to Washington and other leaders of the time that we continue to look to their example as a guide to our current conduct.  Washington was an extraordinary leader whose greatest accomplishment may have been what he chose not to do.  His popularity at the conclusion of the War and through his presidency was so high that he easily could have accumulated more power and stayed in office through the remainder of his life.  Washington chose instead to retire to Mt. Vernon and pass governance on through a democratic, peaceful process.  We have followed that example for more than 200 years, and I believe it is among the most important, if not the most important, legacy of George Washington and the founders of our nation.

 If you haven’t done so lately, I would strongly encourage everyone to visit the library.  I think Washington would agree.

Confronting Mental Illness

I don’t believe anyone enjoys perfect health, and I’m sure that holds true for our mental as well as our physical state.  We all have moments of anxiety or depression, but most of us are fortunate enough to get past our worst times and live happy and productive lives.  There are many among us, however, who are not so lucky.

My first professional exposure to this problem occurred when I was a young city administrator and I began to hear complaints about an elderly man urinating in public near our elementary school.  Our police investigated and found that the man was mentally ill and was living in dangerous squalor.  I started calling various agencies to see about getting him help and kept hearing that there was nothing that could be done unless the man would agree to get help or a relative could be found to act on his behalf.  I was finally able to convince a county worker to meet with him, and she was able to get his agreement to be placed in an adult foster home.  The reward for this work was that when the man came in to pay his final water bill in the company of someone from his new home our billing clerk reported she saw him smile for the first time. 

Smaller cities generally offer few services to the mentally ill and disabled except for emergency response and care.  Those of us who work at City Hall also have frequent contact with people who have problems or issues and don’t know where else to call.  Some of these people are angry and threatening, while most are just grateful to speak to someone who will listen.  I have received calls in the middle of the night from disturbed folks, asking me to fix problems ranging from garbage disposal to neighbors who won’t take care of their lawns.  A lady in La Grande would call me on occasion and use every obscene word she could remember (there was nothing wrong with her memory) to help convey her message.  I would try to make calm suggestions, and our conversations usually ended cordially.  She surprised me one day by delivering an afghan she had knitted for me.

Albany has taken steps to try to be more responsive to the needs of the mentally ill by training our police officers to avoid confrontations that could escalate into violence and by participating in various efforts to help provide shelter and treatment for those with mental health problems.  I know our police and firefighter/paramedics are often called upon to deal with extremely difficult situations involving the mentally ill. 

I also appreciate the good work of both the Linn and Benton County Health Departments in providing care, and I know the schools and hospital are increasingly involved in confronting this issue.   Despite the efforts of many concerned people, we too often hear of suicides and other tragedies particularly affecting younger members of the community.  I believe we need to confront mental illness rather than fear its stigma and recognize that treatment offers the most hope for those suffering its effects.