Observations: Something Good

Published on: March 7, 2012

We may not be able to do much to stop bad things from happening but we can help make things right when they do.  With each sunrise, it is always morning in America again. Mitch Traphagen Photo

We may not be able to do much to stop bad things from happening but we can help make things right when they do. With each sunrise, it is always morning in America again. Mitch Traphagen Photo


I am convinced that for everything there is a reason. Sometimes, however, it seems like our minds are simply too small to grasp the reason — there is a much larger system at play than we can possibly understand. I fear, however, that for a small number of us, our already small minds are growing smaller still.

In this tenuous economy, some people are closing ranks and doing what they can to protect what is theirs. The “I got mine” attitude has always existed, but it seems a more mainstream attitude today. It is unflattering, in my opinion. An estimated 46 million Americans are living in poverty — those people are Americans, citizens of world’s wealthiest nation.

“But we’re broke!” is often the cry when it comes to fundamental functions of our government. No, we aren’t. No other nation on Earth comes close to the economic power of the United States. At an estimated $15.1 trillion dollars, our economy remains the world’s largest. China, often bandied about as rising to push the U.S. from the world’s top spot, is currently the world’s second largest economy estimated to be $7.3 trillion — or less than half that of the United States. Ours is a wealthy and blessed nation by any and every measure.

I know with certainty that some of the 46 million Americans living in poverty are there due to their own poor decisions or due simply to a lack of willingness to make things better for themselves. But I also know that most of them would do anything to make their own American Dream come true. Sometimes people just need a little help and with that there is no magic bullet. There is no switch to flip that will make things better in an instant. Help comes in many forms, from food stamps to education assistance, and it may require many years.

Here’s the kicker: poverty is not restricted to those living in camps in the mangroves or in homeless shelters. More and more, poverty can be found on your street in the homes of your neighbors. People are hurting and are having to make difficult decisions about whether to buy gasoline or food. That’s nearly one in six of us, folks. That alone says something is wrong and needs to be put right. This nation can’t possibly prosper with such a statistic. A lifetime of handouts won’t work, but somehow opportunity needs to be restored. We need to restore our faith in ourselves. If people are to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps, they really need to have bootstraps in the first place.

I know there are those still willing to invest in and bet on Americans. If there was a reason for this economic downturn, I haven’t discovered it yet, but I feel certain that something good and long-lasting will come from it eventually. Perhaps the good will be that some people will find their own hearts. Because the truth is, almost none of us are immune, and almost all of us could be among those needing a hand given any number of unfortunate sets of circumstances. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

I don’t know what good could possibly come from the tornadoes that killed an estimated 39 people in the Midwest and South last week. When a 14-month-old baby named Angel was found alive in a field, we were all given a ray of hope that miracles do still happen, even in this age of growing anger and cynicism. But then, Angel died surrounded by family members who survived the storms. She was surrounded with love from them and from an entire nation. I can’t explain why that hope appeared to be taken from us, and I certainly can’t understand why a little innocent child died. In all frankness, I don’t know why God didn’t save her; I don’t know why God didn’t answer the prayers of thousands who I’m sure were praying for her. But I have faith there is a reason. I have faith that from this innocent child, there is something to be learned and gained for all of us. I have faith she has something to teach us because, when it comes to such matters, I know in my heart that a child will lead us.

I don’t know why a bullet fell from the sky and struck a 12-year-old boy standing in his own yard in Ruskin. Few places embody peace and tranquility as does the yard at Diego Duran’s home. But I am convinced that Diego has much to offer the world through both the tragedy and his inspirational recovery. For those wondering what has happened to families that care for and take care of each other, families in which parents love and teach their children, and families that do the right thing for each other and the community; I can tell you with absolute clarity those families still exist and Diego’s family is one of them. Diego is a polite, articulate, sensitive and intelligent young man who drew a blow that he never saw coming and in no way deserved. Certainly, no child would deserve it. But if there is anything positive that can come from it, Diego and his parents will find it — and more importantly, they will share it.

I wish 46 million Americans weren’t living in poverty.

I wish the innocent baby in Indiana had survived.

I wish a bullet had never struck Diego Duran.

My wishes can’t change any of that, but I can change myself and, maybe, I can change my corner of the world. I can reach out to those in need, I can shed tears for those we’ve lost, and I can pray for those hurting and recovering. I can’t change the world, but I can change myself. I can be a better person. I will try to remember the lessons I see in the things that I can’t understand. I will try to expand my small mind. There is something good to be found in the worst of all possible things. I believe we will find it and we will be better for it. I don’t believe that God causes bad things to happen, but I do believe He gives us opportunities to help set things right. We should take them.

P.S.: Speaking of good things — I was wrong a few weeks ago when I mentioned a new housing development going up on Shell Point Road in Ruskin. My error was first pointed out by a gracious reader and then was illustrated by the signs that went up. It isn’t a housing development at all, it is a project by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Hillsborough County Parks Department and the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission to restore a piece of old Florida. The Bahia Beach Restoration Project is a multi-year project that will allow us all to experience a small piece of Florida as it was a century ago.

I was wrong in my assumption and, most importantly, was wrong to assume that this county and state had no interest in saving any of what Florida was. I’m glad I was wrong. Something good is going on there.