Declaration of Dependence
If life is a swimming pool, look for me at the shallow end. I’m not (by my own standards) a very adventurous person – and advancing years have not made me any braver. But what they have done is make me increasingly aware of how many different things I depend on, just to keep going at all.
I was born into a world in which certain basics of life, like the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the prevailing atmospheric conditions which we call “climate,” could all more or less be taken for granted. Well, I don’t have to tell you how questionable such matters have become – to say nothing of others, like the safety of our schools, the confidentiality of our personal information, the value of our savings, the security of our property – even the reliability of our news sources.
Yet there must still be certainties on which you or I can depend. For me, the first one which comes to mind are friends – which in turn reminds me of that famous statement by E. M. Forster: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” The only tie more dependable than that is the loyalty of your dog.
(True there are supposedly binding “marriage vows,” but in none that I know of does the word “depend” even appear.)
And what about God? If you are a religious person, you know you can always depend on your deity – whatever or whomever you pray to and have faith in. If things don’t seem to be going your way, obviously the message is that you need to maintain and strengthen your faith.
And if you are not religious, then you can depend on science, which has already performed so many miracles, and promises so many more. But any belief in scientific “progress” must inevitably come up against the elusive nature of truth and reality.
Ultimately, it seems, there is only one truly dependable entity – the one who has been with you from the moment of your birth (if not before) and who will remain with you as long as your body remains habitable (if not after) – yes, I’m talking about your good old self. That must be why the makers of a popular brand of adult diapers chose to call their product Depends – giving the comforting reassurance that, even when it can no longer trust its own bladder, your Self now has other dependable (and disposable) resources.
In the activities of daily life, however, there are many other contrivances we’ve come increasingly to depend on. You don’t have to be reminded of how much stress you feel when your computer or your “smart” device ceases to function – to say nothing of your usually very dependable refrigerator or washer-dryer, and of course, your now already old-fashioned television or radio or automobile.
And, when it comes to travel, there too the once dependables are falling apart on us. We can no longer depend on aviation to provide the maximum in speed, comfort, and convenience. Considering all the precautions now necessary, safety and security are coming at a very high price in pleasure, and even in dignity.
What, then, are the things we can still truly depend on? Certainly not our teachers, doctors, and other professionals, no matter how many degrees they have after their names. What about the arts – music, literature, painting, and all the others? Everyone knows how subject they are to the wobbly standards of taste and fashion.
Does government have any answers? Our American Constitution is founded on the non-dependability of any one branch – which is why the legislative, executive, and judicial powers are perpetually set against each other. (They call it a system of “checks and balances.”) Indeed, the only governmental department which seems to be certain about dependency is the Internal Revenue Service, which has strict rules about just who may claim to have whom as a “dependent.”
But in the final analysis (and I do mean final) the only thing we can all truly depend on is the finality of our whole existence. For better or worse, there, up ahead, is the sure and certain outcome of all our endeavors – the other end of the pool in which I began by telling you to look for me at the shallow end. All we can confidently say about this vast and crazy swimming pool of life is that it all deep-ends.