So this is the New Year

I handle letters to the editor at work. Most are e-mailed, but some come by post or are dropped off.
I keep one of those stuck to my computer. It�s neatly printed on a small sheet of lined paper, ripped from a spiral notebook. The page got wet at some point - maybe the person was writing outside. Some of the words, written in black ink, smudged when the page was folded.
�What makes me happy,� it�s headed.
�Going out for walks along the ocean looking at the boats and fishing boats. Having a cup of coffee in a restaurant. Riding the bus when I have money for bus fare. Going shopping for food and clothes. Filling my fridge up with lots of food. Having money left over. Saving money for a rainy day.�
That was it. No name, or we might have used it as a letter.
I didn�t really think about why I kept the note. I just knew it was a message that I didn�t want to dump in the recycling bin and forget.
The list is charming, maybe a little heart-breaking, in its simplicity.
Charming because it has a kind of beautiful spareness. Walking by the ocean. A restaurant coffee. A chance to buy food and maybe have a few dollars left in case something goes wrong.
The list is not infected by overreaching ambitions; it just sets out ordinary pleasures.
That�s the heartbreaking part.
There must be a story behind the note of someone who often finds those pleasures out of reach. A restaurant coffee is impossible; there is no food in the fridge; pelting rain turns a walk beside the ocean into an ordeal.
But how can that be? The person who wrote the note - a woman, I�ve always thought - sounds like someone committed to making the best of life. Things might be rough, but she keeps on working at it.
So how can a society not make sure that the effort is rewarded with the small things that will make her happy?
There are limits, certainly, on what we can do. At current tax rates, the money to improve life for people with disabilities, unable to work, comes partly from minimum wage workers just getting by on tiny incomes.
But there are also moral limits to how wretched we can make their lives without diminishing ourselves.
There is a judgment here. You could provide an income equal to the average wage for those who can�t work because of a chronic illness, for example.
You could stick them in a poorhouse, spending just enough to keep them alive.
Or you could find some sensible point between the two extremes.
We haven�t done that. A mother who develops a disability that keeps her from working, raising a 13-year-old child, gets $570 a month for rent. Which, in Victoria, means a one-room apartment with a kitchen nook in a dodgy building.
There is an additional $796 a month for everything else - food, clothes, bus passes, phone, all the things a mom and 13-year-old girl need to get by.
The total annual income is less than $16,400 � $315 a week. That is one dismal life, for mother and child.
The note shows how the simplest pleasures can be out of reach.
I don�t think we�re that mean. B.C. voters didn�t say they thought tax cuts that caused suffering for thousands of their neighbours were a good or necessary idea.
Which leads, or lurches, to three wishes for the New Year.
Enjoy every cup of coffee in a warm restaurant, each day your fridge is well-stocked and every walk along the ocean.
Refuse to accept the diminished lives imposed on your fellow citizens, recognizing the shame it brings on us all. Demand better - and put your money and volunteer effort into making it so.
And consider how important it is to pay attention - really pay attention - to the people around you.
Your laughter, your praise, your concern, your love - those are the most precious gifts. And so easily given.

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