I recently had a disturbing conversation with my eighty-seven year old mother, which isn’t unusual because so many of my conversations with Mom these days are unsettling. While it’s common for the elderly to focus on the past, claiming everything was better in the “old days,” my mother has chosen to see the world through a dark lens. For her, everything is horrible. The world is tearing apart at the seams. America is on its last legs. Our freedoms are being whittled away and all politicians should be taken out and shot.
In truth, my mother has always been as supportive of the Federal government as a bootlegger hiding a still during Prohibition. When I point this out to her she claims I’m telling a big fat lie. I’ve encouraged her to prove me wrong.
A recent conversation went like this: “Mom, if it’s true you don’t hate your government, say one good thing about it.”
“There isn’t anything good about it. Socialism is destroying America, and if you weren’t so blinded by your liberal views, if you didn’t swallow all the malarkey you read on that computer machine of yours instead of learning to think for yourself, you’d see that I’m right.”
I ignored the socialism comment because, like most Americans, Mom doesn’t understand what socialism is. “I notice, Mom, that you didn’t answer my question. Surely there’s something good about the government. Your Social Security checks arrive on time, your mail is delivered promptly, you have fine healthcare cover—”
“I pay for those things!” she snapped, cutting me off.
I listened patiently as she continued to disparage not only our country (offering a feeble excuse for not voting even though our state has mail-in ballots) but also religion (Muslims in particular), healthcare and young people everywhere. “Prices on everything are too high,” she said, “and there’s nothing to watch on TV in spite of all the channels.”
I pressed on. “Mom, I’ve known you for nearly sixty years, and in that time you’ve managed to detail all the things you don’t believe in. But I’m curious; what do you believe in?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“Yes you do. Mom, I know you don’t normally take me seriously, but this is important; I need your help because you’ve been blessed with eighty-seven years of life and who’s in a better position to answer my question than you. So I ask again: What do you believe in?”
“It’s a trick question. I refuse to answer.”
That was as far as I got, except to suggest to my mother that I’d hate to sit at the banquet of life at her age only to find myself starving. My mother is an unhappy camper, and since she’s blessed with great health and a sharp but cynical mind I can plan on her being unhappy for many years to come.
A philosopher once said: The unexamined life isn’t worth living. I believe this, more so as I approach the sunset of my life. I was disappointed that, at the very least, my mother didn’t say she believed in her family. In me! But Mom did provide something I desperately need—she prompted the question I must answer for myself: What do I believe in?
After considerable thought I had my answer: I believe in my family and know I am loved, and capable of returning love. I believe in my imperfect country. I haven’t given up on the dream that is America even though we’ve often diluted our principles with arrogance and greed. I believe that people everywhere want the same things I do—dignity, security and opportunities for their children in a world free from fear. I believe terrorists will never speak for the vast majority of people on this planet, and that building schools and hospitals will always be more rewarding than blowing them up. I believe that good-hearted people will always make a difference in the lives of those they touch.
People often ask, “What is the meaning of life? Are we flukes of nature, cosmic mistakes, or is there a reason we are here? I’m beginning to think we’re here to answer this simple question: What do I believe in?