Hey! It's Monday, the dawn of a new work week. But it's not just any new week. It's the first week of the first month of what many celebrated as the first year of a new century. And not just any century, but the first 100 years of a new millennium.
There's an untarnished future just ahead. Wouldn't this be a fine time for a new national beginning?
If the 1900s were the Age of Edge, perhaps we're entering the Age of Affirmation. Maybe we're on the Eve of Construction. Not the Me-llennium, but the We-llennium. And what if America's run-rampant optimism leads to global enthusiasm, encouragement and confidence? And what if that leads to earthly contentment? Not soppy-sappy happiness, but a fulfilling feeling, hope-fraught and full of grace.
Sure, the past 100 years were lousy with murder and mayhem. Near the end, we even came close to blowing Russia and/or ourselves to smithereens, but we didn't. We're here. Russia's here. The world is still standing. We even survived the impeachment of a president, the Y2K problem and more than a decade of Regis and Kathie Lee.
Sure, there's bad news in this paper, and we could still experience some Y2 chaos, but a lot of things are going pretty good.
Let's see: The economy's ginning right along. The stock markets are ripping through the roof. We even have a budget surplus. We're not murdering or robbing or raping or assaulting each other as much as we used to, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Despite signs of global warming, we do seem to be trying to take better care of the Earth. Of the most polluted U.S. metropolitan areas in 1990, some two-thirds now meet air quality standards, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report. Today 50 million Americans in metro areas such as San Francisco and Detroit breathe cleaner air than they did a decade ago. "We're making huge progress," says Carol Browner, director of the EPA, which marks its 30th anniversary this year. "Increasingly you have companies who see advantages in being green."
Despite reports of Americans' increased obesity, we do seem to be trying to take better care of ourselves. Not as many people smoke tobacco as did 35 years ago. Fewer teenagers are pregnant than at any time in the past quarter-century. We're living longer. A hundred years ago, women lived on average to the age of 48. Men lived to be 46. Today those life expectancies are 79 and 74. In 1900, influenza and pneumonia killed about 202 people for every 100,000. In 1997, they killed 33 out of every 100,000. The overall national death rate dropped from 17.2 per 1,000 to 8.6.
And granted, Americans have painful problems--divorces are up a hundredfold over 1900 and the great chasm between haves and have-nots continues to widen. But in many respects the nation is better off than ever.
And we're sharing the wealth. The American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel reports that Americans gave more than $175 billion to nonprofit groups in 1998, nearly 11 percent more than in 1997. In his recent book, "Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion," Wade Clark Roof writes that middle-age Americans are less focused on themselves and their spiritual needs and more interested in helping others.
You'll have to admit it's getting better, a little better all the time. In fact, life for most of us is relatively sweet. Come on. You can feel it. There is throughout the land a creeping hopefulness, evidenced by bright-side books such as "The Long Boom" and "Tuesdays With Morrie"; upbeat TV shows like "Dharma and Greg" and "Touched by an Angel." Even kinky David Lynch has made a feel-good movie.
"Looking forward, all that I can see, is good things happening to you and to me," sing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on their recent reunion album.
You could probably take all of the above and twist it into bad news and dire predictions for a disastrous millennium ahead. But what's the point? After an end-of-the-century slide into sarcasm and cynicism, wouldn't it be truly radical and avant-garde if Americans took a turn toward the wonderful and the wonder-filled? If we just said no to negativism?
This is not a call for blithe and blind Pollyannaism. No New Age, human-potential mumbo jumbo. Just honest-to-goodness hopefulness. Positive spin. Sanguinity. Half-full glasses with free refills.
And some discipline and self-restraint.
"There is nothing inherently impossible about learning to live within physical limits, preserving Nature's beauty and steering ourselves in the direction of our best dreams," writes sustainable-living advocate Alan AtKisson in "Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World." "Our demonstrated power to create havoc on such a massive scale has established an irrefutable truth: We have the power to create on a global scale."
We might even see the return of the exclamation point as non-ironic punctuation!
Talk like this throws contemporary culture vultures into convulsions. Where's the sting? people want to know. Where's the downside? Gone. Kaput. Out the door. We don't need it any more. Tell them that sourness is, like, soooo last millennium.
In their new book, "In the Spirit of Happiness," the monks of New Skete monastery in Cambridge, N.Y., make a simple, straightforward suggestion that we "live fully, completely, absolutely, without ambivalence, to put our minds, our hearts, our souls, our spirits, all our strength and determination, our whole being into the pursuit of what we're doing, right here and now. Not worrying about how it's going to come out, not worrying about this or that difficulty, despite any problems we might have to struggle with. This is where we will attain happiness."
And, perhaps, meaningfulness. With a good attitude and more good fortune, we just might have a serene century and a more meaningful millennium.
We've got time. After all, it's only Monday.