I keep a diary. Actually, it is an extremely boring diary. My most passionate entries say things like “drove 40 deductible miles for business meeting. Bought stamps for home office. $39.00”
When I was younger, however, I kept a real diary, and when I look back at it, I find that what turned out to be the more important and significant things in my life were frequently in the background.
Most people’s diaries and early lives are like that -- and so is news, I have discovered after a life as a journalist. This much I know: There are things happening on the periphery of the news this year -- or perhaps, just out of sight -- that will prove to have been far more significant than the stuff we are making all the noise about.
If any one story dominated Michigan this past year, it was the race for governor between Dick DeVos and Jennifer Granholm.
My guess is that in a few years from now, none of us will remember a single issue in this campaign or a single phrase from any of the candidates speeches. What we will remember is what happened to the auto industry in the years following that race, and what happened to Michigan’s economy. And we also will look back on other things that we don‘t now fully realize were happening.
If you look back at Michigan newspapers from 1954, you will also see a whole lot of space devoted to that year’s totally forgettable gubernatorial campaign. And somewhere, a little story about a former assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.
He was conducting clinical tests on school children of a vaccine he had invented that he thought just might prevent polio. His name was Jonas Salk, and his vaccine changed America.
This past year was one in which Michigan was slapped in the face with the reality of the domestic auto industry, the force which built this state into a major industrial powerhouse a century ago.
General Motors and Ford are both in awesomely difficult straits. Neither will ever employ as many people as they once did. Neither will ever have the kind of market share they once did. Both are drowning in red ink while their major competitors are rolling in profits. Ford’s very survival seems an open question.
And they, and we, have to figure out what to do.Confucius didn’t really say that the worst curse you could give someone was “may you live in interesting times."
But these are, without a doubt, interesting times. But maybe better times than we know. The Soviet-era writer Ilya Ehrenburg did say this, at the worst point of the Stalinist tyranny: “If they covered the whole world in asphalt, a crack would appear. And in that crack, grass would grow.”
The tyranny he knew has vanished from the earth. And the grass still grows. Here’s to happy holidays, and better things to come.