I Wish My Neighbors Cow Would Die And The American Dream

Picture of a cow

When I was a young boy I remember on warm summer evenings hearing snatches of conversation my parents had with our neighbors the Dunham’s.  Children pick up on all kinds of things like this, as all of you parents already know.  These summer conversations I’m referring to often centered around the Soviet Union, and the evil communist, and the possibility of nuclear war.

It was in the fifties, and the cold war mentality was going strong indeed.  Our neighbor even built a bomb shelter.  And I heard the obligatory conversations about who he would let in and who he might have to shoot after the holocaust.

These are strange sounding conversations today, but I don’t believe they were so unusual at the time.

And I recall boyhood nightmares from that time as well.  I would wake in the middle of the night, scared to move or even breathe, because I thought there was an evil communist under my bed.  Such are the fears of a child.

Those communists would get me.  They tortured people.  They told people to spy and rat on their neighbors to the state.  And their neighbors were hauled away with a sudden knock on the door in the middle of the night to prison camps without trial – or worse yet, just shot for their supposed dissent.  Those communist could do anything and the state owned everything.  They could take your property, your kids, anything at all.

Some years later, as a rather serious young man, I remember reading a joke about the old Soviet Union.  It seems a peasant woman in the Soviet Union found an old lantern one day.  And she started to polish it.  And a genie appeared in a cloud of magical smoke.  The genie looked at the woman, and in a booming voice, said, “I will grant you one wish, and it can be anything at all.”

And the woman said, “I wish my neighbor’s cow would die.”

I remember thinking how sad that was, that the state had turned its citizens into such a psychological state of envy that this, of all things, was what the woman wished for.

Fast forward a few decades later and I’ll tell you a real experience I had with someone from the Soviet Union.  At first, you will think it is a different point of view.  Because I got to know a wonderful woman, named Genya, who had emigrated from there.  I actually met her on a flight back from Fort Lauderdale to St. Louis.  And we became friends.

She had not been a communist.  She had risen in society just up to that level, but no further.  And she told me how she always got six weeks’ vacation to the Black Sea.  And her apartment was free from the communist state as well.

It had a nice sound to it, that the state provided all of these things.  She didn’t have to pay for any of them.  It was just all part of the system.  After all, the state owned everything.

And then one night we were listening to the Beatles on the radio in my living room, and she looked at me and said, “You know, John, just a few years ago you could be thrown in prison for listening to the Beatles in my country of the Soviet Union.”

So much for the benevolence of the state.

Now Genya was a wonderful, intelligent, highly educated and cultured person from St. Petersburg.  And I think there were as many nice people in the Soviet Union then as there are in our country now, or just about any country.  Including Germany before World War II.

But somehow they let a system creep into their country that gave power to the people that are not such nice people.  A system that allowed these people to bloom.  You know, those controlling types of people.  Those with good intentions – and some without them too.

They gravitate toward power.  And then do bad things.  Intentionally, or unintentionally – it does not matter.

Today, years later, I think back to the nightmares of my youth.  Those silly boyhood dreams of communists under my bed.  I will tell you that I don’t have nightmares, not yet, anyhow – but I do have concerns.

It is beyond my comprehension that the America I grew up in actually has discussions about water boarding and torture –like this is an option to be considered.  And I’m astounded at the recent legislation that gives the President of the United States the power to accuse a U.S. citizen of terrorism — and execute them — without due process of the law.

Who thought this was such a good idea?  Apparently the majority of our elected officials did.

And I’m concerned about official government statements to report anything you see that looks suspicious.  I think I have good enough judgment on that without them telling me so.

And I have long been disturbed that this country has more people imprisoned that any country in the world.  Even in the heyday of the Soviet Union, we had this rare and distinct honor.  So much for the land of the free.

Or that this article may be going through the NSA’s (National Security Administration’) computers as I write it.  Or that there are cameras recording us in public, like in George Orwell’s 1984.  Or more 1984 where we are permanently at war.  First it’s this country that’s the enemy, then another.  Who can keep up with the latest boogieman country these days?

All in the name of security.  Doing things for us.  Giving us things.

We have overreacted by tenfold at least to the 9-11 attack.  And we have let these politicians capitalize on it.  As they always will.  We have let the terrorists win.  And we have done it by our own hand.

Which has led to a disturbing silence you may or may not have noticed lately.  Like when you no longer hear the birds in winter.  That is to say, when I was young, it was common to hear people say, “Hey, it’s a free country.”

I haven’t heard that one in sometime.  Those birds have quit chirping in this land.

So like the women’s cigarette commercial of the past, “We’ve come a long way, baby.”  In little steps, baby steps, we have approached the state of all my fears of youth.

There are many reasons how we’ve gotten here, and much blame to pass around.  But rather than waste time on that discussion, let me suggest a simple thing we should do.  And our soon to be Presidential and Congressional elections offer us this great opportunity.

We have got to STOP voting for people who promise to do things for us and give us things.

Because in order to give us things, they take things away from us.  Material and spiritual things – like our concept of freedom, and self reliance, and equal opportunity, but not guaranteed results.

Like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — our American dream.  That if we strive hard and smart, that we can be successful, and people will admire us for that, not hold our success against us.

Those things.

Because if we keep voting for politicians that promise us things, we begin to develop a sense of entitlement.

And then the psychology of envy sets in.

And we will soon enough be wishing our neighbor’s cow will die.

To your health and prosperity – John

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