PUBLISHERS NOTEBOOK: It really is a miracle that you are reading this
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 5:04 AM
I often write this column on Monday and most people read it a couple days later as there is a lapse between production and the finished product of a newspaper. This has been going on for years as our schedule rarely changes drastically.
The difference for this particular column, though, is that I'm writing it in one year and you are likely reading it in the next year, as sometime in that weekly lapse the clock will strike midnight to separate 2013 from 2014.
The holiday is often a time of reflection - newspapers compile a review of the year, radio stations name the top songs of the year, movie reviewers pick their list and so on. For many individuals it is also a time to look ahead - making resolutions promising to change are a tradition that never changes.
Despite all the hoopla, in the end it is just the passing of another day when New Year's Eve morphs into New Year's Day. Our lives aren't built on highlights from the last year or the small changes we make, if we keep our vows, in the coming year.
Instead our lives are built on a continuum of developments over years, some before we were born, that shape our outlook as well as where we are today. They are so incremental we barely notice them. Yet, if we really think about them, miracles are all around us.
The subzero weather this week has many people complaining, but modern clothing allows us to make our way, comfortably, at least as comfortable as is possible when the mercury plummets, in the harsh winter weather.
Even more remarkable is that we don't have to spend much time outdoors if we don't want to. Most of us have comfortable homes that pipe in heat through a process few of us understand using materials from a great distance - at least for those who haven't converted to solar, which could also boggle the mind if you think about how the sun aligns with earth to give us days, seasons, sustenance and now energy.
Some of us will complain about the snowy roads or traffic or lousy drivers, but just being able to travel down any road at speeds of 60 miles per hour is amazing in itself. I really know little about how my car operates, yet sometimes as I put cruise control on during a long trip, I wonder how many components have to meld together just so to provide a thoughtless, comfortable, safe journey.
Today cars are even smarter, connecting us to the outside world while also cutting down on the chances of error, drastically reducing the accident rate. This didn't happen overnight, but has been a series of advances building on previous work that will continue through the years.
I'm lucky to even be alive. If I were born a century ago, I would already be nearly a decade past the average life expectancy. Today, the average person lives nearly three decades longer than 100 years ago. Nothing happened suddenly to change that. Instead, life expectancy has been increasing in increments of less than a year every year due to advances in health care that have also been incremental, building on previous knowledge.
Many of us complain about the economy, but few would trade in our work environment today for those of the past. The average work week in 1870 was 61 hours, the workplace was much more dangerous and most people worked until they died since retirement wasn't an option.
That didn't change one year, but instead the workplace improved to a more humane environment over time. Individually, we may complain about a particular job, but it really is a miracle that there are so many choices, nearly all that include safe working conditions in a comfortable work environment.
I could go on, so many things contribute to our well-being today, but you should see the point by now.
I don't mean to disregard people who may be scratching to make it through the day due to lack of shelter, transportation, good health or a job. Their plight probably didn't happen overnight, though, and it is something they, and society as a whole, needs to examine just as the rest of us need to recognize the trends that lead to our good fortune.
I also don't mean to dampen the New Year festivities. The eve and day should be a time to have fun and celebrate the arrival of another year.
However, if you are reflective now, look back longer than the highlights of the previous year and examine just how you got where you are today. Likely, it wasn't one sudden event that happened one year, but a continuum that started before you were born, grew as you did and will continue into the future.
Also, think about the things around you that you may take for granted. You may realize that our life, and our way of life, really is a miracle.
To all our readers, Happy New Year and welcome to 2014, which promises to build upon 2013 and before to keep the miracle alive, at least to those who recognize it.