HELP LINE: We have to decide to be better

WHERE IN THE world is the Information & Assistance office?

We’re still in Sequim. We just moved to 609 W. Washington St., Suite 16.

Don’t you love it? “Suite 16.” It was almost worth moving just for that.

Now, here we are: post-Fourth of July.

Did everyone enjoy themselves? Bands, parades, speeches, fried chicken and fireworks.

Well, OK, not everyone likes fried chicken and quite a few of us could live without more-than-a-few speeches and people with pets hate fireworks, but … still.

It is an important day, and nobody needs me to explain that.

I also suspect that quite a few of us (particularly those of us who are old enough to remember a lot of Fourths) can’t help but reflect on what seems to be happening in the good, o’le U.S. of A.: Incredible, endless division and divisiveness everywhere.

Nobody agrees with anybody about anything.

Unless you are part of what I consider to be us.

Constant, vitriolic attacks, accusations, labeling and marginalizing.

Hatred! Fear! Lies! Even, violence!

What has become of us? Is this the beginning of the end?

Well, if you’re perched on the edge of your seat waiting for me to deliver the grand answer to that, you can relax because I don’t have it. You can bet that I’m going to talk about what does occur to me.

I imagine that the life of a nation parallels the life of a person; after all, nations are created by people, right?

And most of us, as elders, are given to looking back on our lives — trying to understand how we got here from there. It’s our job: Struggling to understand who we are, given who we were and what might be the point of it all.

We do it a lot, whether we admit it or not.

We look back and remember, because we remember.

We remember all the choices, made or ignored (which were, of course, choices just the same), and all the forks in all the roads.

Remembering that we couldn’t do nothing! We had to do something! So, we did.

And remembering, with embarrassing clarity, how smart we used to be. We knew it all. All anyone else had to do was ask. (And, often, even that little nicety wasn’t absolutely necessary, because we were glad to enlighten you.)

We were wise beyond our years, and we knew it.

We had all the answers.

No, we weren’t. And no, we didn’t. But we thought we did.

And, often, these forays in yesteryears (way more than reminiscences, more like examinations) can be more than a bit … embarrassing: “Did I really do that?” Did I really say that?” “What on Earth was I using for brains?”

And it isn’t far from embarrassment to shame, but that’s a subject for another day.

On our best days, these examinations can actually result in a few, “Aha’s” — that’s not what I want to do, that’s not what I want to say, I can be smarter than that and … that’s not who I want to be.

That’s not who I want to be … anymore. I can be better than that.

And on our very best days, we’ll say: I will be better than that.

Now, certainly, we remember the good parts, too: The times when we did and said good things, and made good choices. When we made the world (or our little slice of it) better.

The times when we were the best we could be and we are very grateful for those.

But those are easy to forget, so we tend to remember (and perseverate on) those bad things.

And, if we’re not careful and we do it too much, we can begin to think that everything was bad.

That it was all dark and evil.

That we were (and are) miserable excuses for human beings that have no right to exist.

I think that’s as destructive and delusional as thinking that everything has been perfect.

Isn’t the point of being here to learn? To become more? To decide to be the best we can be, then go try to do that?

And keep trying? To be the best we can be?

I’m inclined to think it is.

I’m inclined to think that’s exactly the point: To learn, to grow, to use the past as a way of seeing what can be; and, accepting that, maybe, it was the only way to get here from there.

And I’m inclined to think that it’s the same with nations: That’s who we were, this is who we are; now, who do we want to be?

How can we do better? Be better? The next step, the next phase should be better, kinder, more.

Yesterday got us to today, but it won’t get us to tomorrow.

We have to decide.

And I think that makes the Fourth of July a very important day.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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