My kids used to own a pair of hamsters (Plus and Minus) who would occasionally escape from their cage, only to return to it during the night. They'd gnaw at the bars, scurry around in frustration whenever they weren't being fed or entertained, looking for that one brief moment when the possibility of escape might afford itself. But if they actually DID manage to get out of the cage, all we had to do to recapture them was to put the cage on the floor of the kids' room and leave the cage door open. They'd both be back inside by morning.
How many of us know of grandkids who are living under their grandparents' wing right now? How many of today's kids are out there metaphorically gnawing at the bars, wishing they could be free- out on their own in the real world-, but who seem content to stay inside their hamster cage, well fed, taken care of, entertained?
We might share some pity for the tropical fish swimming endlessly around and around in the fishbowl, but in reality a great many of us are no better off. The door is wide open, but we choose to lock it shut and go back to our daily grinds, staring out at the real world as if it's hopelessly beyond our reach.
I'm not at all sure life would be any less confusing for us if we were tropical fish in the fishbowl.
This past week has given me a thousand reasons to smile, and nearly as many reasons to weep.
Over the weekend, my lovely (and dangerous) wife and I helped our resident ten year-old celebrate her eleventh birthday by hosting four of her closest friends for an overnight sleepover at a local hotel. After a similar celebration only a year ago, we told her that we wouldn't be able to do that sort of thing again... and yet... there we were last Saturday night, paying for pizzas and listening to utter chaos in the adjoining hotel room as five little people, amped up on sugar, bounded from one thing to the next. They went swimming in the hotel's pool, checked out their room's amenities (including the one cup coffee maker...), and generally carried on as if they were in a dorm room at college. No one got much sleep on either side of the adjoining door.
But while we were there at the hotel, several things were taking place out in the real world of which we were blissfully unaware.
An NFL quarterback refused to stand for our nation's national anthem, and when asked about it told the world that he couldn't stand for the anthem of any country that tolerates the senseless killing of black citizens by white police officers. Not exactly a Rosa Parks moment, but then again, not all that different, either. Sometimes you have to stand up for something by refusing to stand.
And the usual suspects were quick to condemn his actions, as the law and order crowd jumped to attack Colin Kaepernick of the Forty-Niners. From our collective reaction you might have thought he had personally carried a backpack of explosives into the Statue of Liberty.
We're funny like that.
Want to get modern Americans stirred up about something? Kill a cherished lion in Africa or murder a popular great ape in an American zoo. Send a dick pic to your sexting buddy whilst lying next to your infant son in bed. Tweet a photo of a white presidential candidate in blackface to point out your opinion of the "Democrat Party" and its' treatment of blacks in this country. Or refuse to stand up for the ceremonial playing of the Star Spangled Banner.
Nevermind the underlying racism at the heart of the public dissent. Nevermind the fact that one candidate for president gets away with attacking the Gold Star parents of a fallen U.S. service member, while another is criticized for having a close aide who happens to have married a serial sexting fuckup. Nevermind that a pharmaceutical company can get away with epic price gouging on a lifesaving product millions of kids depend on every day. Nevermind the fact that as I'm typing this, somewhere in America, a black person is being pulled from an automobile and abused in an inherently unfair manner by a white police officer. Nevermind all that.
Go back to circling around in the fishbowl, and type that angry tweet about privileged millionaire athletes disrespecting our veterans. Make another donation to Trump's campaign, and ignore the racist base of his support. Laugh at the woman who can't save her marriage from the perversions of her husband, while bashing the candidate who trusts that harried woman with her political campaign. And shrug your shoulders with a "meh..." attitude for folks who can't afford the medication they need to save their child's life during an attack of anaphylaxis shock, because the free market will sort out those drug prices eventually.
I think the average hamster in a cage has us pegged just about right.