state of disunion

children to stay put, not wander off, to hug a tree and we will find come find them. Sometimes staying where you are just isn’t possible…

children to stay put, not wander off, to hug a tree and we will find come find them.

Sometimes staying where you are just isn’t possible though.

A couple of days ago Father Joseph Guilbaud, who will be 91 next month, recounted to me one relevant episode in his adventurous life.

Travelling cross-country from Ross River to Pelly Lakes one summer in the early 1950s he got disoriented in that Yukon wilderness.

First, he went up to a high point of land to get a fix on the surrounding countryside. Compass in hand, he chose a point on the horizon and set out for it.

Trying to keep to a compass orientation while bushwhacking through dense underbrush can be rough though. Cloudy conditions and rain made the slogging even tougher.

After three days of rough, uncertain travel he resolved to follow the next large stream he reached down to the Pelly River; he figured he would then know where he was for sure.

Father Joe found his stream and set off along its “zigzagging” course.

An incident with grizzly punctuated his story but he eventually got down to the river.

A sense of relief overwhelmed him and he told me that he broke out in joyful song, singing everything he knew from La Marseillaise to the Magnificat.

From there he could again set his course with confidence.

He didn’t panic. He didn’t loose heart. Father Joe kept on plugging and eventually got where he wanted to go.

What do nations do when they lose their way?

Since the first State of the Union address given by George Washington on January 8, 1790 in New York City — the then provisional capital of the fledgling republic to our south — US presidents have used this address to set national priorities and outline the legislative program they hope will achieve them.

The US Constitution formally requires this: “The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

On Tuesday we heard President George Bush Jr. deliver his fifth State of the Union address. You could not help sensing that he was lost, in a metaphorical woods, without a strong moral compass to get our neighbouring nation where it needs to go.

Bush’s focus remained fixed on Iraq, terrorists and tax cuts. Key issues like health care, housing or old age security hardly rated.

He could say, without flinching, before the full Congress: “America is a great force for freedom and prosperity. Yet our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another.

“So we strive to be a compassionate, decent, hopeful society.”

All the while the United States official poverty rate continues to rise.

Nearly 16 per cent of the population, or more than 45 million citizens, have no health care coverage whatsoever according to US Census Bureau statistics. And 12.9 million children live in poverty

Meanwhile, the CIA World Fact Book affirms Cuba has a lower infant-mortality rate that the United States.

They also state that the infant-mortality rate among Afro-Americans is nearly double the US rate.

The real median income for black families, as well, is significantly more than one-third lower than that of non-Hispanic white households.

Hispanic householders themselves have experienced a real decline in income.

The gap between rich and poor has reached record proportions. This social reality does not foster unity or a sense of common purpose. What would?

Are we still seeking to build a “compassionate, decent, hopeful society” here in Canada?

We will have to keep our new government on the right course if we are.