Monday, October 29, 2007

Young and Old

Aging and retirement hardly resemble the "golden years" one often sees and hears. In truth, by the time we have finished decades of working, instead of enjoying the freedom to do whatever we want most of us are burdened with health issues, either our own or those of our loved ones. Since we live so long these days, many also have a parent in their upper years to worry about. With the value of our dollar having taken a nose dive, our "safe" investments are worrying us. We may not immediately see the price increases in our daily lives, but they will come. With crude oil approaching $100 a barrel, transportation of goods is going to skyrocket. Many European manufacturers are trying to keep their products competitively priced here, so they may be selling them with small profit or even at a loss. Otherwise we would see a 40% increase in every imported item, from Swiss chocolates to automobiles. It won't be long before oil and gold will be priced in € or some other stable currency and that's when the chaos will hit us. With America being so cheap to tourists we should see them come here in the millions, but with the paranoia they are greeted upon arrival here, many will pass the opportunity. Face it, we wouldn't like it either if every country we visited would fingerprint and photograph us, and arbitrarily deny entry, possibly throwing us in jail because of a "suspicious" last name or an entry stamp in our passport. Just follow this link to read about horrendous treatment of my fellow Finnish musicians in Minneapolis by U.S. Immigration officials. How would you feel if you had been in my countrymen's shoes?

That said, many of us worry about how to finance our later years. Even pensions which we have counted on may not exist. Social Security is looking more and more like Social Insecurity and many employers have opted to break contracts and stop making payments to pension funds, perhaps in order to give the illusion of a balanced budget. Having paid for long-term care insurance for decades, people find out that the company isn't willing to pay a dime. Insurance is a funny thing. It is successfully sold to us because of our fears, yet the companies only exist as long as they can make a hefty profit. In a nutshell we end up paying into it far more than we'll ever get out of it. Take my dental insurance for example. As a result of a biking accident in my childhood two of front teeth got an invisible hairline fracture. Fifty years later one of them snapped while biting into a slice of pizza. Luckily the dentist was able to save the tooth but it required a visit to an endodontist, plus a post and a crown. The insurance with its yearly maximum covered the work on the root canal and $18 of the post and crown, leaving me a balance of two thousand to pay. Yet we pay that much to Aetna yearly for a coverage which will never amount to the sum of the premiums. My late mother-in-law was truly smart: she flew to New Zealand more than a decade ago to have her dental work done there for peanuts. They have since changes their laws regarding foreigners... I shouldn't complain as I will be able to work until my health makes it impossible, but that is not the case with most of us. And I could ask if having played the violin for over 50 years isn't enough, but obviously paying for health insurance and children's education will keep me busy with the fiddle. Of course it wasn't supposed to be like that; on paper I was well protected. Life goes on, however, and I have a hunch that I'll have the last laugh.

As our friends and older family members get sick and pass away, there seem to be less and less to look forward to. Nature is merciful as many elderly lose their short term memory and the sense of now: they can happily live in the past in their memories, with everyone dear to them alive and well. For others, children and grandchildren can be a source of joy. Just today my second daughter gave birth to her second child, a healthy boy of ten and half pounds. I spoke with her and she sounded happy indeed. I just wonder if I'll ever get to really know those grandchildren. As my first family ended up in a divorce, one daughter stayed closer, both physically and emotionally, to her mother, the other to me. Of course we have a loving relationship, but L.A. is far and I don't feel the urge to hop on a plane and fly there every chance I get. Gone are the days when families stayed closely knit. Today one's children are likely to end up in different corners of the country, or even the globe.

As my grandson was born, my eldest daughter also gave birth as her first book was just published. "Women Behind Bars" is subtitled "The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System". The topic is obviously very serious and Silja's book is a result of many years worth of study, interviews, correspondence and prison visits. Some chapters will bring tears to any reader's eyes. After finishing the book one's mind is full of question marks about the logic behind our penal system and especially how it handles women inmates, most of whom are locked up for non-violent crimes. We learn about drug-dealing boyfriends or even husbands who manage to put the blame on their "loved" ones. The latter often have no knowledge of the "crime" that lands them in prison while the guilty party walks away free or gets a minimum sentence. Many of us hairless apes have no conscience and we are willing to say anything, even under oath, that will benefit us even when it greatly harms others. There are over a billion sociopaths walking on this earth according to some statistics, so all of us have encountered many of them, often without recognizing them.

If humans indeed were created as images of God, I hope that our Heavenly Father (or Mother) doesn't have these tendencies; otherwise the world and the universe are truly doomed.