When the plane landed in Fort Lauderdale Florida, the pilot announced “Welcome To Paradise!” I was excited about the pilot’s vision, which seemed at first to be mine; but, concerned about what I was running away from, what I was losing and how empty it might feel to be without contact with everyone I had known for so long!
I had sold my practice, my home, and nearly everything I owned to move to Florida. I had given up a handful of treasured friendships, a huge number of fun acquaintances and over 12,000 patients, many of whom I knew by name and personal history for nearly 40 years.
I flashed on visions of the forest of friendships I had just willfully been transplanted away from. For moments these thoughts made me imagine images of being a space traveler marooned on a distant, beautiful but alien unpopulated planet, perhaps Mars.
As we drove to our new home using a navigator to guide us along unfamiliar roads, I thought that I felt for moments like the character in the story “The Martian” must have felt. Had he felt lost, lonely and wondering what tomorrow would be like as I did now? There was a big difference, of course, from the situation of that of “The Martian” in that we were surrounded by people and a safe environment but what about my soul’s environment? Like the Martian I had lost all that makes living life meaningful such as the relationships, trust, respect and common history. I had lost what had grown up over many years as a forest of “friendships” with different degrees of nomenclature like casual, personal or family. More than that I had given up my relationship with my community, my practice of Holistic Eye Care, something I had invented, nurtured and grown into a giant tree. One so strong that it had survived the financial storms of 3 major recessions over nearly half a century.
It made me wonder what forces had created such momentum that I had been willing to leave the beautiful creation of a lifetime that had for some reason now become toxic? Something I occasionally viewed as a wasteland of destruction. There was a lot to think about. There is also no simple answer. Some have tried such as the book “Who Stole My Cheese?” But I was not looking for a description of change I was looking for socio-economic forces that had reshaped and redefined my world. Seven months later I think I have found it. I am a sci-fi writer because I am always searching for answers to question such as: what is it that creates or destroys civilizations? Why destruction and creation are so intimately intertwined? And finally does it have to be so? My own experience was now helping better define these questions and paint images of possible answers.
I think that the catalyst of the torrentuous socio-economic forces, that I had experienced so recently, might be described as the loss of responsibility and connection between the people that make up a civilization. I thought back on 40 years ago, when I first moved to Brewster in upstate NY, where my office had been. I recalled a farmer who had walked 3 miles to my office for his eye exam because he said, “It did not warrant starting his truck just to drive 3 miles.” Times were different then. It was not that he walked so far so casually and so unpressured by time, that was just a description of what had changed since then. That was just a flavor of the essence of the ethos of that era that you could easily taste. What was so different was that this farmer would soon know me by name as he did hundreds of the other people whose lives he touched every day! Keep in mind the phrase “whose lives he touched.”
40 years ago as I started my practice, I became enamored with the people I served quite quickly. Apparently they with me too. Six months after opening my doors to what I expected to be a weekend, part time practice, I was working full time. I had to give up my other two part time offices. The force that made this change was the large families of Irish and Italian heritage Americans who were soon to become my extended family. They got to know me personally, like me and trust me. With that relationship, the whole family had to come see me and eventually most of the town. We were all in this life together!
What changed 40 years later to make me move and give it all up for a promise of paradise but a loss of family? In my opinion, the essential force is the loss of connection between people and the loss of responsibility for your actions or inactions. From the viewpoint of my profession, we saw the destruction of the doctor patient relationship created by the third party payors. When people came to me 40 years ago, the service was thorough, affordable and easily paid for in cash. When I left, the service was more mechanized, far less personal and no longer affordable in cash. In fact is is the biggest disaster of American health care history.
I believe in the system of free enterprise and capitalism (with some caveats). It has certainly worked for me for a long time. I believe that the strength of any economy is small business and entrepreneurship. Why? Because I believe that it is the knowing of your clients and responsibility to your community that keeps you on the straight and narrow path. The path that for many American’s is defined on Sunday Mornings under the multicolored shafts of light falling through stained glass windows. Take away this connection and it is easy for Chinese factory owners to adulterate milk or put dangerous materials in sheet rock. It is easy for Monsanto to create toxic herbicide that will likely soon be proven to have caused cancer in millions of people while rationalizing that they are the Horn Of Plenty that feeds civilization. It is easy for congressmen to take millions of dollars of bribes while the Wall Street rich devour the lifeblood of America’s workers with carnivorous creations called derivatives (otherwise known as gambling).
Where there is no personal responsibility, there is no community. There is nothing to lose but the smell of fresh minted money and what temporary pleasures it might buy. IBM, in some ways started this revolution and they became named for it. IBM stood for “I’ve Been Moved” as in from my family, my home and my community for money’s promise. We were willing to give up what makes life meaningful for the casino of promises that were never fulfilled.
Somehow there has to be a way of connecting people to people and make business, its owners and its workers intimately responsible to the communities of people they serve. We must recognize that each of us holds the lives for our country’s citizens in each others hands. Not because it was so warm and fuzzy to be in the community I helped grow with me 40 years ago (though that is a good enough reason) but because otherwise the landscape of life becomes so toxic that the best of us will leave. The vast majority of us do not work for money, we work for personal satisfaction, respect and a feeling of self worth, personal value. The majority of employees leave a job not because of money but because they are not treated with respect, listened to and praised for their achievement.
My experience, is that with the creation of self respect by serving a community of people we know, enough money always follows. You also get to share the wealth around if you don’t live in fear of a lack of money to cover expected personal economic crisis. America has proven this for over 200 years. “Too big to fail” is not an option, it is a symptom of the bribery and corruption of our government (mostly our representatives) on all levels that allows for a lack of responsibility. It is enough to make a person run away from their home and seek a new start almost anywhere else. It is something to write about, for me.
I believe in what Walt Disney said years ago, “It is better to entertain with the hopes of educating, then educating with the hopes of entertaining.” This is my dream and what I hope to inspire in others I get to form a community with.