April 20, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

It’s up to us to make change good or bad

Cynthia DewesA visiting grandson looked out the window recently and exclaimed, “Holy cow! Look at the size of that squirrel!”

Sure enough, munching away on acorns on the front walk was one of our fat local squirrels, complete with orange tail waving joyfully like a frond of fern. He and his compatriots, the similarly fat chipmunks, are a common sight every morning.

These hardy fellows and their girlfriends are but a few of the signs of spring we’re seeing around here despite the unseasonably cold weather. The Canadian geese honk overhead flying south, and the woodpeckers size up our wooden house for attack, taking practice pecking runs here and there.

Such events announce one of the four annual changes of season, always refreshing times for God’s creatures. We don’t hear much about the natural law anymore, but this is surely one of its manifestations.

Which brings us to the question of change in general. People like to say that the only certain thing in life is change, and the older I get the more accurate that bit of lore seems to be. The verities we take for granted at any given point seem to become the discredited and outmoded ideas of a future time.

On a national level, in my youth the U.S.A. was the most respected country in the world. We enjoyed a moral superiority which displayed itself not only in the idealistic notions of our founding, but also in the subsequent generosity offered in many ways to other peoples and nations. Genuine freedom for all was our goal, and immigration was a welcome thing in our “melting pot.”

Public schools produced literate citizens, well able to function in the workplace for their personal advancement as well as that of society. Teachers were usually dedicated, and students were expected to behave and make a real effort to learn. Doctors and lawyers were respected because they were generally respectable.

Parents were expected to be responsible for the welfare and success of their children, and parents were expected to be one man and one woman—married to each other. Children had no rights except those given by their parents, who were in turn expected to know what those should be for the good of the children.

For that matter, individual rights for anyone depended in large part upon the “common good” as well as personal satisfaction. Politicians were no more virtuous than now, but public discourse was expected to be civil. Expressing faith in God and going to church were admired, and depicted with respect in public entertainments.

People understood that if they drove recklessly, got drunk, refused to work or practiced any kind of risky behavior they would suffer consequences. The rights of mentally ill or handicapped people to be cared for trumped their “individual” rights to destroy themselves. Dysfunctional childhoods were more or less taken for granted, too common to be used as excuses for error.

Now, the downsides of those times were many, including racial segregation, environmental carelessness and sad working conditions. Unfortunately, there are always downsides to human behaviors.

But even if we can’t influence something like the change of seasons, we can control other life changes by making better choices. Let’s leave natural laws to God, and try to do better at voting, working, raising kids or whatever else we’re called to do according to human law.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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