It was just a few weeks ago that the Christmas season had most of us in a frenzy over what we were giving each other, and what we were getting in return. Unless we’re children, we profess to be concerned only about the former, but the latter inevitably flickers across our minds.
It didn’t take long — in fact it was right after the January 1 fiscal cliff agreement, and decidedly not in the Christmas spirit — that the emphasis here in Washington shifted from giving to getting. Both sides engaged in a flurry of line-drawing, announcing what they must get, and what they are not prepared to give. President Obama insists he will not go along with a deficit reduction deal that involves only spending cuts. Republican congressional leaders say spending cuts are the ONLY thing they will consider. The president says there will be no negotiations over the debt ceiling. Republicans say it HAS to be a part of the conversation.
Wasn’t it a short two months ago, in the November election, when Americans leaving their polling places said in exit interviews that they wanted the country’s leaders to work together? It was just this week when my 91-year-old aunt in Oklahoma said to me by phone, “You can’t have everything you want in life.” She was referring to her own recent battle to walk again, and to get her speech back, after she took a spill in the home where she was determined to live alone. My mother’s older sister, she’s always been the purveyor of no-nonsense wisdom in the family. But her statement could also be intended for Washington officials, consumed with a determination now to have their own way, apparently no matter the consequences.
She told me she doesn’t enjoy the speech therapy and physical therapy that are now part of her daily routine, but added in a remarkably strong voice that she’s making the best of it: ” I’ve learned we have to accept what we have; to live with it.”
I thought as I hung up the phone about what my aunt had said: that if she can fight her way back from that ugly fall, if she can do what she describes as “not giving up. Some people my age give up; I don’t,” then surely our elected officials – facing the need to make decisions on cutting the deficit – can do no less. Last week, I wrote about how much the younger generation, the millennials, have at stake with the failure to reach a comprehensive deficit reduction deal: they’ll inherit the debt built up by our generation. But don’t our leaders also owe it to older Americans like my aunt, and so many others, who either lived through or have heard about the Great Depression, and who face their Golden Years, or their final years, having given so much to this country?
She was speaking about herself when she said, “You can’t have everything you want in life.” But her words apply to the rest of us, too. By the way, she’s making great progress: she stood on her own for a full minute Wednesday.