Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Economy of Disaster

My son-in-law Ronnie is stranded at the Portland Airport—again. He paid the money for Lyft on Saturday to join his family and ours in Palm Springs, only to be turned away from his cancelled flight. Hours of back and forth and he was re-booked on a flight for today, three days later. Weather conditions were improved and off he Lyfted to the airport, but did not get lifted up in the plane. Flight cancelled again due to back-up. There he is, on a long line crawling to the agent, with little hope that anything can be done. He will just miss any semblance of Christmas with his family and not get to enjoy the hard-earned rest and respite in warm-weather that he looked forward to. 


The domino effect continues, as he took precious time off from his work to make this happen, one of the two weeks he gets off all year. So now he’s home alone, wasting his vacation time, unable to simply work in the days ahead (as a hand therapist, no patients scheduled) and losing the money for that week. His kids were scheduled to fly back with him from here this Saturday while their Mom rode back with us to SF to see a childhood friend and greet her baby. Perhaps they can still fly alone, but then probably be charged the $100 fee for unaccompanied minors. So alongside all the emotional turmoil is the financial penalty. 


Of course, Ronnie is far from alone, as the country is awash in such holiday airport fiascos and on one level, it all is an act of God that one can’t do anything about. Next to drought, pestilence, tornados and such that threaten life and crops and homes and livelihood, all First-World problems. 


And yet. Climate change is less an act of God and more a result of human ignorance and greed. “We all sit down someday to a banquet of consequences” said Robert Louis Stevenson and this particular meal is far from delicious or nutritious. And amidst the psychological anxiety and real destruction is an actual price tag measurable in dollars. Money is something our culture understands best and it is damn expensive to send relief to hurricane disasters and such.

And in the other fields of human short-sightedness— the systemic racism, the failures of schools, the assault of media’s violence and program of constant consumption and distraction, the political fiascos, the corporate-sponsored oxy drug addictions— there is a price tag measured in dollars alongside the toll on human health and happiness. It costs a lot of money to break things and then try to fix them. In just one of many examples, California spends more money on prisons than on schools.


I think of the bumper sticker “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” So my guiding philosophy as a teacher is “Get it right the first time.” Give children—and everyone— the food, shelter, sense of welcome and belonging, skills to think critically and feel compassionately and tools to help them get up themselves when they fall (always with a little help from their friends), the nurturing, caring community that helps them feel safe, wanted and valued, the arts education that brings beauty into their lives. The progressive school where I worked had a progressively rising tuition, but also the independence to create such a community. In the long run, by giving the children all or most of the above, it perhaps saved both them and the state money by not creating the need down the line for expensive therapies, rehabs, prison and more. 


None of this is consolation for Ronnie and all his fellow stranded passengers. Just a thought to consider yet again why it’s important to keep human and planetary health as guidelines for decision-making. We can’t get Ronnie on the plane today, but we can re-double our efforts to pay attention to all that needs fixing and work yet harder to “get it right the first time.”


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