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Editorial: Chasing Dust Bunnies


Chasing Dust Bunnies

By Sue Reitz

I HAVE A VICE. Some misguided people may tell you I have more than one, but I'm only going to publicly own up to one.

I love to read. I read whatever I can get my hands on whenever I can find the time. Too often, I read whatever I have my hands on even if I don't have the time. That's why, when my to do list included writing this editorial, doing some laundry, shopping for birthday presents and developing a parenting skill or two, I was sidetracked by Ronald C. White's new Lincoln biography. This led me to reread bits of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals just to compare the two historian's perspectives on the same events. This, in turn, led me to do some Wiki research on Lincoln's secretary of state, William Seward, who was attacked the same night Lincoln was assassinated. Let me tell you, if, when you were a child, you could not write a report on Spain without reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, you should stay away from Wikipedia. Trust me. Anyway, following the links in the Wiki article, I then read up on the Lincoln assassination conspirators. Wiki actually describes the death throes of those who were executed. Gross, but compelling. One of the conspirators was a woman who appears to have been executed because her guilty son managed to elude capture.

Backtracking a bit, I read up on all of Lincoln's direct descendents, most of whom, shall we say, appear to have inherited more from their ancestress, Mary Todd, than from their more illustrious ancestor. At this point, no longer reading about extraordinary people in extraordinary times, the stench of the laundry finally caught my attention. On my way to the laundry room, I was able to walk right past the newest National Geographic. But that's only because I had already read the cover article about Hatshepsut, the she–king of Egypt, entitled, "The King Herself."

So, why am I sharing my darkest secret with you? The ultimate reason why I have sticky floors, dirty windows and kids wearing wrinkled t–shirts? I guess I'm trying to establish my credentials. Knowing how I managed to fritter away just one weekend on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, you won't be surprised to find out that I've frittered away many other weekends on other periods of U.S. history. Please don't quiz me on anything. I'm a dilettante, not a scholar. What I do think I've learned is that it takes the perspective of time to distinguish significant historical events such as the Whiskey Rebellion, the Alamo and Prohibition from extraordinary historical events such as the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Great Depression. The other thing I've learned is that, at any point in history, from extraordinary times to mundane times, the people living in those times found their current events to be unique, compelling and significant.

So, today we're in the midst of a financial crisis. It's a very compelling current event that has already had a significant and negative impact on many of our lives. We're right in the middle of it so we really don't know how bad it's going to end up being; it's very possible that some day we'll look back and agree that these times were as extraordinary as they feel to us now. But, I have to admit, after spending a weekend immersed in the horrors of the Civil War, I feel a little bit like someone visiting an Intensive Care Unit. I think, "Gee, we think we have problems, but look at what those people went through!" And I start to feel a bit optimistic that, maybe, 20 years from now, the written histories of the 2008 financial crisis won't compel me at all; that I'll be spending my weekends chasing dust bunnies under my sofas.

Sue Reitz, FSA, MAAA, is assistant vice president for Illinois Mutual Life Insurance Co. She can be contacted at