I do not propose to enter the dialogue between Dinesh D’Souza and E.J. Dionne about who caused the golden age America is now said to be enjoying. The subject baffles me. I don’t see the chain of causation by which the specific acts of specific politicians are supposed to have led to the results noted today. If I don’t know what caused the baby’s death I can’t begin to think about whether the au pair (Reagan? Clinton?) did it.
I would like to offer some musings on another kind of “golden” condition. I refer to the golden days of private individuals. Between the golden days of individuals and those of nations, the connection is, I believe, quite loose. In saying that, I mean to exclude the Holocaust, the Great Depression, and total war, as well as people who are exceptionally vulnerable. But within the usual range of variation of the national condition, the difference between a golden national age and a not-so-golden national age is for most people unimportant when it comes to achieving a personal golden day.
If I had to describe the salient characteristic of a personal golden day in one word I would say “peace.” That is the ultimate blessing in the key Judeo-Christian benediction: “May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you peace.” I understand peace in this context to mean not the absence of international violence, or not only that, but a person’s peace with himself, with his idea of how he should behave. It includes loving and being loved, and accepting and appreciating the universe and what man has created in it.
I cannot give a general prescription for achieving golden days, but I can give two examples from my own experience to suggest what some of the ingredients in such a prescription might be.
A bout two months ago, I was sitting on the bench at my usual bus stop at Connecticut Avenue and K Street, when a policeman escorted a girl or young woman (I couldn’t tell which) across the street and seated her next to me. She was obviously blind, carrying a long white cane and keeping her eyes screwed shut. She could hear the buses coming up to the stop but didn’t know which buses they were, so I began telling her their numbers. It turned out that she was waiting for the bus that I was waiting for, the No. 80. Since she was so anxious about the coming of our bus, I asked her whether she had an appointment. She said that she was going to a class at George Washington University and the professor had warned the students not to come in late.
I thought of putting her in a taxi, or taking her to her class in a taxi. It would not have cost much. But I was afraid that she would think I was trying to kidnap or molest her. (There’s a comment on our golden age!)
At last our bus came and I helped her up the steps. She indicated that I should sit next to her and tell her when we came to her stop. At the stop I helped her down the steps, and the driver kept the door open for me to get back on the bus. But it was clear that once she was on the sidewalk she had no idea of where to go. I motioned to the bus driver to close the doors, took her by the hand, and led her along G Street to the university building she sought. Along the way she told me that she had just graduated from Smith College and was doing postgraduate work in international relations. When I left her at her building she thanked me, but I said that it was I who had to thank her, because she had given me the great feeling of being needed.
That little incident made my day, and several days to follow, golden. I had done a deed of “lovingkindness.” Lovingkindness is different from charity; charity can be done with money, but lovingkindness requires personal involvement. Lovingkindness yields a greater reward to the giver. “Sow according to your charity, but reap according to your lovingkindness” (Hosea 10:12). Writing tax-deductible checks to charitable institutions does not make my day golden the way holding that young girl’s hand did.
On my other example of a golden day, I was out for a walk in the sunshine, and a stranger on the street complimented me on an article of mine that had been published in the morning paper. Returning home, a little tired but pleased that I had been able to do the walk, I lay down and turned on the radio, which just happened to be playing Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto. I was elated, and knew that there were a few people whom I could tell of this feeling with confidence that they would understand and share my joy. That was a golden day, brought about by the beauty of nature and of art, the feeling of achievement and of physical well-being relative to my age, and the connection with a few–one may be enough–sympathetic people.
Golden days do not necessarily result from extraordinary events. They can result from ordinary events happening to people who are receptive, appreciative, attuned to what is happening around them. A person’s psychological and emotional stance, not external events, is what mainly determines his possibility of enjoying a golden day.
In my own case, I think that three years ago I would not have experienced the golden days I have described here. I would have been too shy, or “buttoned down,” to take that young girl’s hand, and I would have been too absorbed with trivia to appreciate the things that made me so happy a few weeks ago. I suppose it is aging that has changed my attitude. To resume my economist’s hat, scarcity confers value, and the realization that one’s days are few increases one’s appreciation of their value. But one doesn’t have to be old to appreciate that. Even for the young the remaining days are few.