I do not recall ever being haunted by ghosts from the past. I am certainly not now. Also, I rarely, if ever, regret leaving behind what I left behind. I cannot hinder the march of time or increasing age, so I take what I can, as best I can. I enjoy occasional thoughts about fond memories and strive to avoid those less pleasant. I rarely consider what might have been, if I had made different decisions or suffered a different fate. After all, I climbed many tall trees, played in unguarded waters, spent a year in a foolish, unnecessary war, drove at speeds most (but not Porsche drivers) would consider reckless, suffered illnesses, and crossed London streets on foot. I have no idea what different outcomes might have been, so do not waste time thinking about the unknowable.
Unlike many immigrants and travelers to foreign lands, I have never felt intimidated by not belonging. Therefore, I cannot empathize with those who must confront prejudice and rejection each day of their lives. Instead, I pity them and loath those that reject, torment, or abuse them. I have no idea about the source of this confidence (or indifference) and self-satisfaction. Vanity is not the cause, because I have a healthy understanding of my self. Perhaps, this emanates from not needing other people for fulfillment. Having lived away from my "tribe" for two thirds of my life, I consider myself fortunate to be like this.
I have never felt like an exile, rather fortunate to be able to choose what I want from life. Being "different" or "foreign" have never been an impediment or curse, as can often be for immigrants or someone not of the dominant race, color, or creed. Perhaps, I benefited from being an American during the years when most of the world looked favorably upon the country of my birth. I recall a saying in Germany, when I first arrived: "There are three kinds of people in this country: Germans, American, and foreigners". Of course, I belonged to what was still an occupying force, but that was not seen as overly negative, compared to what was happening/had happened to people residing to the East.
I have never been arrogant about my status and relative wealth (except when reciting the above line on occasion), but have become more cautious. I continue to enjoy life—and hope to for some time—but tend to be even more-reclusive and avoid pointing to my "differentness". Usually, this is visible to anyone with a firm grasp of the obvious.
This morning, my mind wandered in a strange direction. I thought about simpler times...
A long time ago, there were a small number of rich families and a small number of poor families (the latter quantity much bigger than the former quantity), but there was also a large middle class. People went to work and made things. Salaries were reasonable from bottom to top. Differences in wealth were not so extreme or so visible. Banks were respected and seemed to treat customers fairly. Doors were open from nine to three. They lent money at 5% and paid 3% interest on savings accounts. Some people owned stocks, but the majority paid no attention to those tiny numbers in the newspaper business section or, for that matter, even looked at that section.
And then, at some point, people became greedy and the fabric of US society began to unravel. It was not a sudden change, but rather an oozing process. The Vietnam War may have played a role. Politics surely played a role. But, in my opinion, greed provided the spark and drove the contagion that has laid waste to a simple, fairer way of life. (I don’t want to get into civil rights, immigration, abortion, and all sorts of civil ills. This is about economics.)
Of course, everyone played a role and most displayed some level of greed (I’m guilty as charged). All wanted more things and better things—a new model car each year, a bigger television, latest fashions, etc. All this required “money”, which most did not have in sufficient quantity. So, someone invented credit cards, an ingenious method of collecting fees while indebting the masses. It was not unlike the company store in earlier times (as the song says: I owe my soul to the company store; one day older and deeper in debt). I recall being sent a credit card, although I was a student and had no income. I was being invited to get into debt. My father had a pile of cards and was lured into using them.
To prove the absurdity of change in America, one must consider only Walmart and the Walton family. I read that one year the company earned about $3 billion in profit. That same year, Walmart employees across the country received approximately $3 billion in government payouts, because they earned so little. That means that the US Government shoveled huge amounts of money into the pockets of one family. (I also read that one member is now worth $19 billion!) No other creature on this planet displays greed.
Thomas Wolfe wrote a book titled You Can Never Go Home Again. We can never return to simpler times, and we cannot relive the past. Interests have become too entrenched and the US political system is designed to make the playing field uneven and to stack the deck. There’s no way that the Walton family or overpaid managers would even think about taking less and increasing wages of workers. Greed and altruism are not to be found in a single person.
Even though my life has appeared to get better as I got older and I like nice things, I’m happy to have lived in a simpler and better time.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.