Cold War Timewarp

For a child of the ’50s who grew up in the ’60s, reading the news this week is weird and disturbingly familiar.

Stories about Russians testing ICBMs, engaging in adventurous activities in the Crimea, and issuing vague threats make me feel like we’re caught in a timewarp. It’s like it’s the Cold War all over again, and the Russkies are even being directed by one of those inexplicable, menacing leaders that Americans love to hate. Vladimir Putin is like this generation’s Nikita Khrushchev. What’s next? People building fallout shelters and making our kids watch Duck and Cover?

When the Berlin Wall fell more than two decades ago, people confidently predicted “the end of history.” Of course, that’s not what happened. A bilateral world splintered and shifted, and now there are many more threats and many more unpredictable leaders who apparently are bent on doing us harm. I wonder whether this little demonstration of naked Russian aggression will cause President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to revisit their plans to cut defense spending and Cold War weapons programs.

I hope that we don’ return to the unsettling Cold War world, with its doomsday clocks and periodic crises that could blow up into catastrophic confrontation. I hope we also aren’t so smug, however, that we confidently conclude that it just can’t happen. Such conclusions are wishful thinking. There are lots of people out there with lots of territorial ambitions who are willing to run stupid risks to try to achieve them, and we need to recognize that reality and deal with it.

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“I’m Blessed”

In my travels, I regularly park in a downtown Cleveland garage. It’s one of those somewhat old-fashioned garages where you pay an attendant on your way out.

IMG_0852The attendant’s booth is usually staffed by an African-American woman who appears to be in her 40s. I always say hello and ask her how she’s doing as I pull up, and she always — always — responds with a cheerful “I’m blessed” and a smile. You can tell that she absolutely means it, too. Then she wishes me a good day, and I drive on — always feeling better, and uplifted, by our interaction.

Her short phrase and attitude has really stuck with me. I am not a religious person, but there obviously is something about this woman’s faith that allows her to be a radiating source of infectious positivity. Some people might look at her job and wonder whether working in a parking garage is all that great a blessing, but I don’t. I don’t know the woman’s personal circumstances, but she’s got a job and is physically able to do that job, and she is happy about that. Viewed from that perspective, she is blessed, and she’s not shy about telling people so.

I’m not saying that the power of positive thinking will turn your life into a beautiful dream, but I do think perspective matters. Often, people can choose to be positive or negative about their lives, and their choices in that regard have consequences. If I’m offered a choice about interacting with someone who is a downer or someone who is upbeat, I’ll take the person who says “I’m blessed,” and means it, every time.