Living the Dream
Last week, a woman died at the Occupy Vancouver site.
We’re not entirely sure why. Many believe it was a drug overdose. Some say its her own fault. Some say its the mayor’s fault. Some say it’s the richest 1%’s fault for causing her life to feel so hopeless she felt she needed that large of an escape.
I say, that large, because, how many of us don’t need an escape, from time to time?
It’s interesting that we’re so quick to attach fault and blame to events. I spoke with a few colleagues recently about how personally we take each delivery we’re a part of. If it goes well, we attribute it to ourselves. If it doesn’t, we also attribute it to ourselves. And yet there’s always a few events in life – birth, death, and all the little things in between – that don’t seem to have been anyone’s fault.
Sure, if you’re looking for it, we can attach blame to anyone, for anything. Usually I find I need to blame someone or something when I’m the most afraid or ashamed about something. When my world has been shifted significantly, I’d like to find the giant who knocked it off its curve.
Sometimes, there’s no giant though. Sometimes there’s a thousand tiny hamsters, seeming to run in different directions, that make enough scurry to move something really, really big.
Let me explain.
When I first heard of the Occupy movement, I thought, this kind of thing needs to happen. I, for one, am tired of the power elite (translated: the richest of the rich) feeling untouchable, all in the name of ‘capitalism’ or a disguised sort of ‘freedom’ that allows them to get richer while the rest of us struggle either to maintain middle class, or (and this is the really sad part) to even get to a point where they’re not stressed about making ends meet. It doesn’t seem right that my husband and I work as hard as we do for a mortgage that should be more manageable than it is. It doesn’t seem right that if we’d bought our home three years before we did, the mortgage would have been half what we have now.
But we’re some of the lucky ones.
The reality is, our housing prices have increased 1000% in the past forty years, but our average incomes have increased only 452%. In 1970, a gallon of gas was… wait for it, $0.36. A gallon of milk was $1.15. The average household income was about $8000. The average cost of a new home – $26,000. So, considering it was about three times the average annual income to buy a new home… and our mortgage is… hum. I don’t want to think about it.
But, like I said, we’re some of the lucky ones.
Following a skirmish between protestors, fire fighters, and police officers on Monday night, not only are officials are taking steps to shut Occupy Vancouver down, but some of the protesters are admitting they need a ‘backup plan’ to tent city. And though I understand every inch of why they’re doing what they’re doing, I wonder if maybe it isn’t time to try a different way too.
What’s with our dogged need to occupy, anyways?
This week I read about another amazing woman in Merna Forster’s 100 Canadian Heroines and 100 More Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces. Sally Ainse, a Native woman who prospered in the 1700’s as a trader, landowner and courier in the land which would become part of the United States and Canada, worked hard to earn her 150-square-mile tract along the Thames. She built a house, orchard, and field, farming and trading to support her land. She’d intended to grant property rights to a section of her land to individuals she wished, but the Detroit land board post-American Revolution declined her decision to do this. Instead, squatters invaded her land, and the board granted them legal deeds to the property.
Sally fought for the return of her own property for decades, but her status as a woman (only men were allowed to own property in the post-revolution Colonial society), and as a Native prevented her from success. With the support of several prominent men, the Detroit land board eventually allowed her to 1,600 acres (only 1.7% what she originally owned). This, too, was eventually taken from her, claiming that, as a married woman, it was against the law to allow her to own real estate. She was eventually reduced to relying on Moravian Christian charity.
But she did not give up her fight. She petitioned continually for the return of her land. The Council who received her last claim in 1815 were so overwhelmed by her persistence that they insisted she had to be dead.
Sally Ainse didn’t get what she wanted in life. She didn’t live her dream. But she sure went out trying.
I think of Sally and am reminded once again that while we live in a world full of injustice, we don’t just have to accept it and go on. We should fight for what we believe in. We should say this is not okay with us.
All this to say, I understand the protestors.
I just finished reading the mind-opening book JFK (which is really, not much about JFK and much more about land and property and this dogged need to occupy, consume, and own things). He points out how much the world has changed since Magellan’s voyage. When we all thought the world was flat, we assumed it went on forever. When Magellan returned to tell the British that yes, the world was actually round, they all realized that there was only a definite amount of space to occupy.
And, they got nervous.
If there’s only a certain amount of space, then we better get all of it.
Or, most of it.
Because, what if there’s not enough?
This fear, I think, is what drives many of us… what if there’s not enough?
My husband used to dive into food almost frantically. I would joke with him: what, are you scared you won’t eat again?
The thing is, he’d grown up in a house of boys. If he didn’t eat right away, there might not be as much left. At least, that’s what he thought. I assured him that I highly doubted his parents would let him go hungry.
I also assured him that now he lived with a house of girls.
He’s much more calm about his food now.
L. Fletcher Prouty’s point in JFK is that, once we Europeans knew the world was round, we set out to conquer that world, in many instances, disregarding the indigenous people there. We pushed them over, moved them around like pieces, in our attempts to occupy.
And, I start to wonder if tent city really is the way to fight against those 1% we say are taking over everything. Are we standing up for injustice? Or are we just doing the same thing we feel they do to us?
Because, again, we’re some of the lucky ones.
There’s a two-part photo that’s circulated the internet since the Occupy movement started. One side shows the protestors, the other a group of malnourished children in a less-developed country. The caption reads: 1%/99%, respectively. That is, the protestors are the 1%, and the starving children are the 99%.
That’s just it, isn’t it?
We sit and we rally and we complain, and each of these things feels right because there really is so much in this world that feels wrong, and we really do need to do something about it.
But here’s the thing about complaining: we often look like fools when we do it, because, guaranteed, we either start to look like the thing we complain about, or there is someone that is far worse off than we are.
So many of us feel let down by adulthood. We’re not living the dream, we say. Those of us in our thirties had the fortune – or misfortune – to be raised by those who could easily afford all the things they wanted, and much, much, more, and we began to think, this is normal, this is expected, this is ours, they owe it to us.
But the world is different now.
And, we think, this isn’t the life we signed up for.
I agree. This isn’t the life I signed up for.
No, I’m not kidding. Those of you who read this blog know we’re still sort of in cancer-health limbo over here. I still don’t know the results of all my tests yet, and I probably won’t know much until Christmas.
But, in the middle of all this uncertainty, there is one thing I do know.
When I got cancer, I got happy.
Sure, I also got scared, angry, sad, and unbelievably strange at times. But being sick – and yet not so sick as so many others – opened my eyes to a world of suffering that shows me just how thankful I am to be right where I am.
Somewhere, someone wishes they could be as lucky as me.
I’ve met a few fellow cancer warriors who’ve not been as fortunate as I, who’ve not had the intense amount of support as I, who’ve not that the beauty of raucous children to rouse them from their flirtation with depression.
I’ve heard of those who’ve not been able to afford the treatment – or, let’s face it, food – that would keep them alive. And I think, this past week, I’ve seen how many doctors, and been able to get exactly what I needed, without taking out a second mortgage.
And, my fridge is full of healthy food.
What a gift.
Somewhere, someone, wishes for exactly what I’ve been given.
Just as somewhere, someone wishes they could be as lucky as you.
You may not know who they are. You may be surrounded by people who pity you, or even judge you – and many of them are genuinely concerned for your well-being. But somewhere, someone thinks, if I could just have that life…
We may not be living our dream. But I guarantee you, we’re living someone else’s.
And though that seems contrary to everything the world tells us is right, and good, though it seems the opposite of what we should be aiming for, there’s something amazing about the moments we realize just how lucky we are.
I 110% support those who use their gifts in activism. The world needs them. But I hope we all realize that while we’re trying to make things better, we’ve already been given so much.
I wonder what would happen that, instead of complaining, we lent what few extra dollars we had to someone who has even less? If we spent our extra time or energy – or just a fraction of it – encouraging someone who feels that life has left them behind? If we spent our degrees and extra time fighting for political and social change in ways that truly changed things, instead of demanding for whatever we feel we’re entitled to.
I wonder if we, the 99%, could see in which ways we are the 1%, and then do what we want the richest 1% to do for us:
I don’t know, of course; but I have a feeling we’d have a lot more peace.
And maybe that peace would be infectious.
Because that kind of happiness, the kind that is not dependent on our circumstances, but merely the spill over of a grateful and generous heart, gives us – and those around us – an anchor we didn’t expect.
It also gives us the ability to laugh when we don’t seem to have much to laugh about.
So go ahead. Live the dream. Even if its not yours.