IT HAS BEEN a year of disasters, plague, torrential rains and economic catastrophe. One might expect the United States to absorb its share of pain from harsh acts of God and misdeeds of humanity. Not so.
The Asian economic crisis spread worldwide, inflicting true recession in several countries, taking in Russia, touching Brazil, depressing industries in Western Canada. Many people around the world were thrown into poverty from which they see no way out.
The world banking crisis slowed the U.S. economy, making the Federal Reserve Board more lenient on interest rates. Several big U.S. companies took severe hits.
But the U.S. economy has not gone into reverse. The stock market has recovered from its steep decline. The rest of the world still looks to the United States as the repository of good fortune, just as it has in much of the past.
Mitch inflicted more misery than any hurricane in memory. None of it was in this country, virtually all of it in the poorest Central American countries least able to cope. Floods wracked China -- a result of irresponsible development along the Yangtze.
In 1998, we cannot escape the observation that the United States has been in some way blessed, provided with a comfort level and good fortune denied to much of the world.
Not that everyone in this country is fortunate. Firms have rationalized, downsized, merged, exported jobs, out-sourced work -- all of it creating distress in families and communities. More such announcements are expected. Baltimore has its share.
Welfare reform has not solved the difficult problems surrounding poverty. Health care economies have left many people without care. Crime, where down, is still high.
That the United States has much to be thankful for does not disguise the gaps, imperfections, mistakes and omissions.
Never were decency and concern for others in this nation and beyond more needed than when so many of us enjoy comfort and apparent security.
Societies are tested by misfortune. They are equally tested by comfort: to make the most of it, to spread it around, to perpetuate it.
Relatively good times provide an opportunity to make the times better for others. It is an opportunity not to be squandered, lest those good times disappear.
Pub Date: 11/26/98