Friday, December 19

Christmas Letter

Hello, Friends.

What a great morning to spend writing my end of year letter. It’s been snowing since late last night, and a full foot of fresh snow muffles the scraping of shovels on city sidewalks. Schools are closed, and there’s hardly any traffic on the roads except for the brash battalions of plows and valiant if lumbering buses. Ben is still sleeping, and Mady is hoping to make it into the Milwaukee airport by this evening and from there perhaps even to Madison. It isn’t entirely sure she’ll make it, but then air travel never seems reliable any more, does it.

What a lot of once taken-for-granted circumstances have changed over the course of this year; the debasement of air travel seems the least of them. Economic growth, retirement, and job security seem elements of the past, along with such once all-American standards as respect for personal liberties and political self-determination, respect for immigrants who remind me constantly that my own grandparents came over penniless and without anything but hope and determination in their pockets. The most fundamental tenets of our Constitution and the foundation blocks of our national history have been chiseled and eroded lately, stained and camouflaged and shrouded. The election of Barack Obama shines a light, yes it does, but the fog is thick, and the call of the foghorn sometimes seems lost or just plaintive among the high drama of prowling pirate ships, as forces of chaos clash with Western ideals of civilization. These are heady times. I am grateful for everyone of intelligence who is called to public service this year. I am particularly grateful there seems to be a full raft of them. I wish them all luck and health and wisdom. I’ll even do my best to tolerate an inaugural blessing delivered by Rick Warren, although I believe you couldn’t stop me from covering my ears.

It’s a time when it would be easy to slip into despair. I was unemployed for most of this year, without health insurance or income or much in the way of local references, having just returned to Wisconsin last fall. Generous, caring friends and family, along with my own obstinate hopefulness sustained me, and I am now finally working at a satisfying position within the University’s Department of Economics. Having glimpsed one wintry utility bill, I am hoping to stay here for the foreseeable, unknowable future. I already miss the freedom I did manage to enjoy during my long spell of unemployment, though; joblessness is far from being all bad, especially since my mom was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease this last February, and my unemployment not only allowed me to spend many lovely days with her and my dad, but also to raise nearly $16,000 in donations for research into the debilitating disease that is claiming her. It feels lately like everyone I know is losing someone they love, without any ability to prevent it or even to stall it. Our hours together are precious. I try not to waste too many of them, though I admit to hoarding a few hours every week for my runs, which seem nearly as important to me as breathing.

My two kids are great as ever. Mady is finishing up her work at CU in Environmental Engineering and working on various projects with NASA, the USGS, and Engineers Without Borders; she will graduate in May. Ben took a semester off from his political studies at Lewis & Clark to work for the combined campaign of Obama and Mark Udall in Colorado. They were both here for Thanksgiving, giving me particular reason for thankfulness and will both soon be here for Christmas as well, so I guess you could accurately say I’m among the happiest people in the universe.

I hope you are too. You are in my heart and my mind, along with so many good memories and fine hopes of seeing you again before too much time flies by us.

May 2009 find us all shoring up our selves with love and intelligence and sharing that wealth with the world.