I am having beer and pizza with friends. We are talking about America’s future and our place in it. I have my worries.
I am concerned about the environment, surburban sprawl, the decaying cores of cities. I am disturbed by our schools, the racial divides, the culture of drugs. Violence. Not just real violence but our appetite to be entertained by violence. Then the war. Real war. The long-running, desultory, demoralizing war.
I wonder where to look for leadership, for solutions, for a way out. The government, the political system? Please. Big business, corporate America? Right. On both fronts I see what wins when the common good is matched against self-interest. The track records fail to elicit much faith. Religious institutions? The legal system? The media? These, too, beg questions of confidence and trust.
I think of the world awaiting our children. I see America’s agricultural past, its industrial, manufacturing past, its once-abundant natural resources, depleting energy sources, the economy . . . all in crisis or grim transition or with uncertain futures. We are a nation held hostage to global powers, oil and gas in faraway places, and the cultural and religious hatreds that threaten to blow the whole thing up.
So as the conversation continues, I grow more depressed — to the point that I walk out, head off alone and take a late-night walk around the lakes at Notre Dame.
I remember the feeling well, as if it happened last night. But it was 1974, my senior year of college, when I was about to graduate into that bleak and crazy world, trying to figure out how to make my way into it — and with hope — while seeing discouragement everywhere I turned.
I’ve gotten by. It’s funny how that happens. You find a place, get a job, earn a living, raise a family, the years go by. Two things I learned along the way: You don’t have to save the world or even fix it; just do good in your little corner. And it helps to do your thing in concert with others — folks who are like-mindedly good-intentioned (knowing full well that, along the way, they will both amaze and disappoint you).
Still, I can’t help but think back to those days as I now consider America’s future. Some concerns are perennial, pathological; some seem much worse, more dire, teasingly apocalyptic. Problems feel intractable. Our faith in traditional power has reached a new low.
I do think that life in America, as it was lived for decades, is gone. We will navigate a different economy, communicate in unfathomably different ways and operate in a revolutionarily more cross-tied world. And much of this might be very good. Or not. Who knows?
Perhaps, in lieu of mammoth institutions, we’ll find solutions and solace in each other — people working in concert, in community, making their little corner better, all the world over.