PORTLAND, ORE. — Cold winter mornings give me a special appreciation for the comforts of my everyday life. Turning a dial sends warm air into every room. Clean water flows from the faucet at the kitchen sink. Standing beside the stove as a pan of scrambled eggs sizzles, I am fully aware that my modest 1957 bungalow provides me with far more luxury than most people on earth will ever experience.
In the weeks following the World Trade Center attack, news stories claimed that many people around the country were having similar thoughts. It was like a giant wake-up call to reexamine goals and priorities, pay more attention to things we often take for granted, and realize that personal and spiritual connections are more valuable than material wealth.
But it's hard to change cultural momentum, especially when it means focusing less attention on our individual needs and desires. Some recent headlines make me think the window of national introspection is closing, and I have an uneasy feeling that large numbers of Americans were totally unaffected.
The former wife of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian is going after him in court, claiming their 3-year-old daughter requires child support payments of $320,000 per month. Of this amount, $104,000 is for food. Can I go shopping with these people sometime? I know the lawyers will say those extra zeroes are just negotiating tools, but I still wonder how they would explain it to all the kids in Afghanistan we saw on TV scrambling for aerial-dropped nutrition packets.
I hesitate to criticize anybody for being overly extravagant, because it's entirely possible that I'm losing touch with normality. I heard a report on NPR recently that explained how universities are trying to attract prospective students by building new, upscale dorms that are more like condominiums.
According to the report, surveys have revealed that a huge percentage of kids heading for college these days have never shared a bathroom. To me, that sounds like a utopian existence far beyond anything Edward Bellamy or H.G. Wells could have imagined.
All of which makes me deeply sympathetic to Hamid Karzai, the new Afghan chairman who is running a diplomatic marathon seeking donations to rebuild his country. If I had absolute power, I would send him a special gift on Super Bowl Sunday: the Publisher's Clearinghouse prize van. Nobody here really expects to win that money, do they? I say, put the van on the streets of Kabul and make sure cameras from Al Jazeera television are rolling as it pulls up to Mr. Karzai's house.
When I think of the incredible problems the Afghans are facing every day, along with millions of other less-fortunate citizens of the world, it's a vivid reminder of how great things are going on my little parcel of the planet. I may never win a million dollars, but it doesn't matter. For me, just stepping into a hot shower every day feels like I've hit the jackpot.