Opinion: A gulf vacation and thoughts on our American psyche

Voices: Signs of progress and hope are still visible, even in our troubled, divided nation.
Illustration by Paul Lachine/NewsArt

Credit: Paul Lachine/NewsArt

Credit: Paul Lachine/NewsArt

Illustration by Paul Lachine/NewsArt

These days, things seem to be happening at such dizzying pace that we cannot process them. Like many hoping to escape, my family and I recently went down to the gulf. It is difficult to be stressed while tiptoeing and floating in that brilliantly clear, warm, tranquil water. The area is more expensive now but still seems to have plenty of average people, mostly friendly. Several yards out, watching my daughter skimming on her board, I found myself pondering, but without trouble somehow.

I was thinking about desperation in America – fine topic for a swim perhaps. Yet, unlike so often, my thoughts came unperturbed – maybe it was the sea.

I thought of some of desperation’s precipitating factors. A full cart of groceries runs three to four hundred dollars now and housing costs have soared past many working folks’ affordability. Credit cards carry people along. We inch down Atlanta’s highways en masse, watching for signs of aggression (and weakness). Every popular event around the city is packed to the rafters – we feel like just a number.

Douglas D. Ford

Credit: contributed

icon to expand image

Credit: contributed

It’s perspective too, I thought. Take our news for example. The nation’s highest sources, whether championing capitalism or social justice, appear more moralistic and elitist than ever at times, as so many Americans fall behind. By contrast, some of our most widespread sources resemble propaganda, more provoking than informing. Some of our nation’s local newspapers struggle in a vital national moment now, when they are most needed.

My thoughts turned to time spent in Colombia, where there’s nowhere near our social safety net, yet where people can be more accepting of their lot in life. Once you’ve seen such places, they’re hard to forget.

If desperation is a lack of resources, a lack of faith, an underlying void perhaps - that’s a clear component of our mood today. It’s impossible to nail down, thus the anxiety, as I became presently aware, looking past the strong but breezy sun above the placid Gulf.

I thought how my wife and I have decided to stay in our home of many years, with prices soaring around us in South Cobb. We recently repainted a brighter interior color and selected some nice furniture pieces from a discount warehouse nearby. Amazing how a good declutter can lighten the mood – we decided we didn’t need so much an upgrade as a purge. It felt good giving a mountain of unused stuff to charity as well.

I thought how happy we are in our home. With traffic and other chaos, we’ve come to enjoy being together, especially after the forced isolation of COVID-19. I still go to court every day, and of course I like to see everyone, but the crucible of being isolated month after month made us appreciate family ties we’d forgotten.

Don’t get me wrong – the pandemic did not kill everyone’s desperation – for some it has increased. However, not long ago we got a collective look at what desperate mobs can do, during the urban riots of 2020 and then the insurgency of 2021. There was nothing hidden about those, the abhorrent touchdown of misplaced rage. Maybe we needed to see who all these folks were.

Likewise, we see our politicians and celebrities, of every variety, now being held accountable for their wrongdoings. It is a sobering moment, with so many powerful and famous taken to task, but maybe that’s important to the public eye. It shows that Americans really don’t want to be deceived – that fame is still not a defense.

I thought how desperation arises in moments of inevitable change, at pivotal moments – it is a natural reaction, when the foundations shift. History is filled with these moments. I thought of our Revolution, our Civil War, our Civil Rights Movement – and that we are still a nation – remarkable. Yes, I thought these things while floating in the rhythmic sea, and they washed over and through my mind. It was oddly pleasant.

When you get out of the water, you still feel the rhythmic pull for a while. You also feel the 300-mile drive back home, the promise of angry clients and pushy lawyers and the bills for our beach vacation. That never ends.

The forces of real desperation are at work in America, but they do have an end. We’ve now seen the wrongdoers, of every rank and race – they cannot hide in the chaos and that reassures us. Times of conflict approach and violence is sadly not out of the question, but we must sometimes lose all hope to gain it again.

I do not know why this is. I’m already missing the Gulf, though.

Douglas D. Ford is a commercial litigation and criminal defense attorney in metro Atlanta.