Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Pythagorian Thanksgiving


Connecticut’s legislature and the governor – twin saviors called to lead the state out of its Babylonian captivity to a new promised land – met for a one day special session before Thanksgiving and, as one reporter put it, “adopted only politically painless cuts and revenue enhancements to trim a current year deficit that stands at $302 million.”

Then everyone went home to make merry for the holiday.

However, when the lawmakers sat down at the Thanksgiving table this year, some things were different than was the case in 1991, when then Governor Lowell Weicker and the legislature dug the state out of a gaping red hole by substantially increasing revenue enhancements. That was the year the governor and legislature hung the income tax albatross around the state’s neck.

Time and tide waits for no man, and so here we are 17 years later – back at square one.

Once again, we are knee deep in red ink. But there are differences. The ink this time is deeper and broader, and there is no new income tax in the offing to address what is expected to be a $6 billion hole in the biennial budget. Christopher Donovan, scheduled next year to become the new House Speaker, is holding out hope, slim at best, that the national cavalry will arrive in Connecticut with cartloads of bailout money. "We have signals from Washington that there is help on the way,” said the future Speaker, “Who can predict in this economy what will happen next?"

Any six-year-old can predict what is about to happen in the national and state economy. The predictions are in, and it will not be a happy time. Depending on whether President-elect Obama and the dominant Democrat US congress pursue a course that punishes entrepreneurial capital, the recession will be either short and manageable or long and deep.

As Connecticut families this year gather together to give thanks to the Lord of creation for the blessings He has bestowed upon us, not everyone will be present at the Thanksgiving table. This should not prevent us from showing our gratitude to our loving parents who have died and left us; to our aunts and uncles, some no longer with us; to our families, who sustain and support us; to military men and women, the guardians of our liberties and freedoms, serving in troubled corners of the world; to our brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, some of whom have left the Connecticut and our Thanksgiving tables to raise their families in more welcoming states than ours.

When we break bread this Thanksgiving, we should remember that we are the children of a merciful and just God who has brought all of us through the wilderness of our winding ways to the joys of family life in a country that to be loved must be lovable.

It is to the wisdom of our elders that we owe whatever joy we have in life.

In his essay on moral standards, Plutarch comments on several enigmatic rules of Pythagoras:

“In general, it is proper to keep the young from association with wicked people, for they carry away some part of their baseness. This principle Pythagoras has enjoined in enigmatic rules, which I shall now put before you and expound. Their contribution adds no small weight to the impulse towards acquiriung excellence. For example:

“‘Do not taste black-tailed fish,’ that is, do not pass your time with men whose character is black with vice.

“‘Do not step over the beam of a balance,’ that is, justice should be very highly esteemed and must not be transgressed.

“‘Do not sit upon a peck measure,’ – or eschew sloth, and take thought how we may provide ourselves with necessities.

‘Do not put out your hand to everyone’ – stands for ‘One must not strike up friendships too readily.’

‘Do not wear a tight ring,’ which means that one ought to keep his life free and not subject it to any fetter.

“‘Do not eat your heart’ – or, do not afflict your soul by consuming it with anxieties.

‘Abstain from beans,’ which means that one should not engage in politics; in the olden times, beans served as ballots for impeaching magistrates.

“‘Do not put food in a chamber pot.’ This signifies that it is not seemly to put clever speech into a foul mind; for speech is the food of thought, and the foulness in men makes it unclean.”


Commenting unknowingly on the beans quote, my dear mother, who died a year ago on September 11, use to warn us before the carving of the Turkey, “There will be no discussion of politics at this table.” It was a rule we joyously broke every time we sat down as a family to break the bread that God gives us and share with each other the joys and troubles of family life.
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