No Nation of Whiners

Last evening I attended a going-away event for an academic friend, who is departing the Nation’s Capital for a more pastoral, albeit equally academic, clime.  Afterwards, another friend and I walked to a nearby cafe, where we had just finished dinner and were enjoying some beverages, when a torrential downpour began, looking and sounding something like a hurricane.  The storm seemed to last for hours, though truthfully the worst of it was probably closer to about 20 minutes.

We had to wait some time for the storm to pass, and when I finally managed to return home it was to find the house unscathed. However my neighbors’ tree, the upper part of which has always loomed very high and very menacingly over the back yard, had split.  The leaning part had crashed into the street behind our houses, and as of this writing is still sitting there, entangled in the utility pole and wires that run behind our block.

Fortunately on its way down the tree managed to miss any actual damage to the property and, at least as of this writing, we still have power in this block. Many people are without, in what has been described as the largest non-hurricane-related power outage in this area’s history.  Predictions are that we will be getting some more strong storms in Washington this evening, which makes me think that we may end up losing more power, including here.  Some are predicting that it may take a week to fully restore power in the metropolitan area, and with extremely high temperatures and the 4th of July coming up, things are going to be a mess.

It is not until these sorts of things happen that we realize how very dependent we are in the Western world on a certain set of comforts.  If it is hot, we have air conditioning, or we can go to someplace which has it, to feel relaxed and cool; yet just the other day I heard someone complaining on a city bus that it was too cold, on a day when it was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37+ Centigrade) outside.  If it is cold, we have central heating to keep us nice and warm – but then we complain that we are hot, or that the re-circulated warm air dries out the house.

The truth is, most of us have nothing to complain about.  As they approached the 4th of July, for example, the founding fathers found themselves in sultry summertime Philadelphia, sweating through layers upon layers of stinking woolen clothing with no real hope of relief.  They worked in conditions which we, their political descendants, would find intolerable, to try to rationally come up with a document to declare their own fundamental beliefs and principles as to why they should form their own government.

Fortunately for them a summer storm broke the heatwave right around the 4th itself. For us, the best that most of us can do is tweet that it is hot and we need some more ice cubes from the freezer but are too lazy to get up and fix ourselves a drink.  This is perhaps a sad commentary on the intellectually and morally flabby state of this country.

The freedoms we enjoy in this country are not free: they were quite literally sweated and bled over.  It is why the Fortnight For Freedom is so important, and it is also why, whatever inconveniences you may be suffering right now in this heat or as a result of a loss of power, you ought to simply do your best to make the best of the circumstances.  In the grand scheme things, the passage of this heatwave and storms across a large swath of the U.S., while dangerous, is for most of us an inconvenience, rather than something whose importance ought to be exaggerated.

My advice is: reach out to your friends and neighbors, if they or you are without power, and get to know one another better by spending time together. Unlike in a blizzard, you are not isolated. And who knows what good may come of your meetings, even if not as portentous as the ones in Philadelphia 200 years ago.


Detail of “Drafting of the Declaration of Independence”
by Jean-Leon Gerome Ferris (1900)
Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virgina

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