When I was little, the world was immutable and safe. No, really. Even though I was very sickly and always at risk of death, so I always understood I was mortal, and also was very versed on what happened after death, because in those nights when I lay awake struggling for each aching breath, I reviewed all my options. (I had come to the conclusion that as final judgement went I’d best cry a lot and throw myself on the mercy of the court by the time I was four.) I would lay awake waiting for light to filter through the interior window (to the living room where light came in through the glass on the doors. It was a shotgun apartment) sure that if the sun came up I’d be better. Weirdly this was often true.
BUT other than the ever present fear of dying — and that wasn’t unsafe as such, as grandma’s stories gave me a map for what was on the other side, and I didn’t doubt her — the world was secure and immutable. Oh, and things never wore out.
There were things like my old diapers we used to do the dusting. They’d always been there, they’d always be there. I had the same favorite pajamas (red flannel) from three to twelve. How is that possible, you ask? Mom must have added patches and layers very carefully, as I never noticed, but the pajamas grew with me, and were still my red pajamas.
I remember my shock at about 16 at realizing things could change, even fundamental “we’ve always done it this way” things. My bath towel wore out and opened a hole. And we changed our tea pan. (No, I mean that. It was a tea pan. We made tea in a little saucepan. I have no clue how that came to be, but my guess would be that mom got tired of teapots rusting out, the same reason I have a glass teapot.)
At twenty two I got married and spent a whole year in utter panic, because there were no “safe” touchstones. If we failed to pay the rent, we’d be thrown out, but more importantly than that, I had NOTHING I was used to. Everything was new. And I was in a new country, which meant … everything was different.
Imagine my shock at realizing we’re now the pillars of the world surrounded by things that have always been so, even if we’ve moved a lot in our married life.
My older son has moved out, and I tried to pack things to go with him that will continue that sense of security, like the towels with the American flag and puppies. Because those have been around since he was three. And some of the “usual” bowls, and I’m ordering him replicas of some of our stuff, like the teapot. Because to settle in it’s important to bring some of your roots with you.
But the way things change now, it seems so fast to me that I’m never shocked, in packing and moving, to find things I don’t remember at all. Things I used/happened for only six months seem to leave no mark in my recollection of events.
And I am shocked when I find things that have been around forever. Like, in one of the visits to Portugal I must have brought back (have vague memory) some of my nephew’s old diapers (best thing to polish furniture.) Yesterday I was polishing furniture with this diaper and reflected that my nephew is now well over thirty, and this diaper is still around.
We are of course in a time of great change, as a family, with the move and my surgery (If I’d known I needed it, we’d have waited for the big move. Ah, well, maybe it’s all for the best, as I needed to get out of there) and the kids apparently both moving out (though younger might wait till next year, depending when other house sells.)
And in the midst of it, I’m aware, as I was in my first year as a newlywed, that there are no certainties. The world moves, and us with it.
The pillars of the world just aren’t there. We float free through space and the price for freedom is insecurity.
Something that strikes me again and again when I go to Portugal is that they can’t seem to understand that the reward of insecurity is freedom. They know, for instance, that if they get ill and can’t afford it they’ll have the crappy level of national health coverage everyone has. It sucks, and misfires often and of course you can’t sue, because it’s the government, but they know it’s there.
In the same way they know they won’t lose their jobs, or if they do they’ll have almost the same in unemployment.
The reverse of that coin is that health care IS crappy (not in absolutes. when it came in it was better than the competition which was village healers. The thing is it hasn’t got much better, at least not in terms of response and responsibility, so well, everyone who can afford it has private insurance as well. So they pay for the public health care through their taxes, and then must pay again if they want, you know, decent care. (There are exceptions, my SIL works for the public system and is a devoted and excellent doctor who puts her patients ahead of other considerations. But you have to be an idealist and a little crazy to do that. Most doctors do the “required hours” for the government and then have their REAL practice.)
And not only does high unemployment payment sap any interest in finding a less than fabulous job, but jobs are hard to find, because it’s so hard to fire non-performing employees. Also, businesses don’t get started because there are so many regulations, unless they happen under the table. Sometimes it seems like everything in Portugal that matters happens under the table.
And yet, they shudder at the idea that when Dan lost his job we had to pay 20k for the first son’s birth. (Until he was three, we were paying for him in installments. We used to tell him it was so he wouldn’t be repossessed.)
And they shudder at the idea that if we’re both unemployed, as happened in 2003, we’ll have to scramble to support ourselves.
But the thing is, I look at our lifestyle and it’s … well… a lot more comfortable than theirs. I was going to say “forty years ahead of theirs” which gives you an idea.
There is a price of course. The price is in the lack of certainties.
I’d like the certainty of course. The red pajamas were comfy and thinking the world has pillars is very cozy.
But I wouldn’t want it at the expense of empowering bureaucrats who make my health decisions for me and who impair the economy to the point that we know exactly what we’ll have tomorrow: a little worse than today.
Of course, we don’t have much choice just at the moment, but we’re Americans and it is important to realize that trading freedom for security is a trade and not just a high faluting trade of ideals, not just “give me liberty or give me death” but a practical trade.
You can have security or the freedom to make material progress. You can have security or social mobility. You can have security or the ability to start a business. You can have security or the ability to invent and create.
It might seem a little silly to say I still prefer freedom to security in those circumstances, but I do. A better mousetrap or a glass teapot are worth it.
Not only that but the security we’re talking about is not the security from lethal attack. It’s more the certainty to know there will always be a little red pajamas waiting for you.
I’m old enough to survive without a little red pajamas. It wouldn’t fit my increased mental appetite anyway.
I choose liberty.