I was a bit taken aback recently when someone I do not know well asked me at a social event, “What keeps you up at night?”
I stumbled, but said something about the health and safety of my family and others dear to me, which is certainly true enough. Like parents around the world, the children — now well into adulthood — and their wellbeing are never far from my mind, and when the telephone rings in the middle of the night, my heart races. That is simply the nature of having family and other loved ones.
The question, though, continued to rattle around in my mind even after I said the expected thing about family and friends. Truth be told, other thoughts keep my mind going in the dark of night.
I worry about the state of our country and our society.
Statistics and our own experiences tell us that even though the Great Recession is over and recovery is apparent on paper, many Americans are not feeling it. Those who are working may be working at jobs that pay less than their pre-Great Recession employment, and many are working at several jobs. Nevertheless, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, a fact that is shrinking the middle class, which made our nation strong and brings our citizens’ growing wealth disparity into sharp focus. I roll among the pillows fretting over the very real possibility that the children of Baby Boomers like me will be the first American generation to live in lesser circumstances and perhaps poorer health than their parents.
My heart breaks a little more every time I hear the latest about the students at Oklahoma University who were videoed chanting racial slurs aboard what appeared to be a party bus. The university dealt with the situation promptly and appropriately, but there is no repairing the hurt and damage caused by ugly words and sentiments. The students involved, some of whom are apparently teenagers, will regret the scarlet letter branded by this incident the rest of their lives, and the entire university community from athletics to alumni, will feel the fallout for years. Allegations about similar occurrences on other campuses have followed.
The OU situation further sharpens the focus on race relations that has been part of our national dialogue throughout our country’s narrative since before we were a nation, and which seems to have ramped up in recent years.
The deaths of young black men at the hands of armed white men, several of them uniformed law enforcement officers, continues to unsettle Americans in all corners of our country. I have heard it said that the recent focus on racial issues comes because we have our first President of African-American heritage. I have no idea why this is happening and could not prove it if I did have a theory, but it is clearer than ever that living in racial harmony in a color-blind culture remains a goal and not a done deal.
Mitt Romney and I have rarely been on the same page, but in his January announcement that he will not seek the Presidency in 2016, he said something that had me saying “YES!” to my TV screen.
In taking himself out of the picture, Romney said it is time for younger people to step up and take their turn. He is right. I see this void in every organization I work with from boards to civic groups to religious institutions, and it both annoys me and worries me to no end. Baby Boomers and older folks continue to do the work with fewer folks coming behind them. I know young folks are busy with jobs, families and personal interests, but so were the Boomers. Just saying…
Finally, news that has troubled me since I read it earlier this month concerns girls and young women. Most suicides in our country occur to white men, 70 percent in 2013, and most of them are middle-aged and older. The new news is that the suicide rate for girls between 10 (yes, 10!) and 24 is rising faster than for boys in the same age group. It has more than tripled since 1994, with the steepest rise between 2007 and 2013. No one knows why this is happening, but the timing does correlate with the Great Recession. It is stunning to think young girls are so discouraged by anything they simply do not want to see what happens next.
I hope that when your head hits the pillow, that you sleep like a baby, but if not, I would love to know what, if anything, is keeping you up at night.