Gas prices are at an all-time high and President Bush's approval rating is at an all-time low.
There is seemingly no end in sight to the bad news. Consumers feel the pinch of inflation, and residents talk about a recent wave of break-ins. We worry about national security and the environment. Iraq, Iran, immigration reform, political detainees, genocide in the Sudan.
And the most recent stressor: our poor health compared to other nations. Apparently, just being an American is stressful enough to be dangerous to one's health. Evidence suggests our poor health is itself stress induced. A double whammy.
It's enough to make one think that Henny Penny was right: "The sky is falling. The sky is falling."
But please Henny, not this month. May is the time when gardens bloom and love is in the air. Even the fast lane slows down. For most of us, life looks different in the warmth of a spring-like afternoon.
Last Saturday was just such a day in Palo Alto. Kids and a parade dispelled the gloom of the current top ten bad news stories. In case you missed it, May 6th was the occasion of the 84th annual May Fete Parade..
Camelot couldn't have turned out a merrier day in May than we experienced on the streets around downtown Palo Alto. No conspiracy mongers or prophets of doom allowed. No worries. This was a day to celebrate kids and the magical ability of innocence to melt the heart of any skeptic.
It was a day out of Norman Rockwell's Americana scrapbook. Neighbors hung out chatting. Folks at Channing House sipped coffee and waited on their decks, balloons flying from the railing. Had they watched this a time or two before? Or marched in the parade themselves?
Parents pushed babies in strollers. Grandparents snapped photos. Aunts, uncles, friends and relations were all there to cheer on the kids, smiles all around.
Streets were cordoned off. A voice came through the sound system giving progress reports and generally entertaining the waiting crowd. A brief pause, and then Louis Armstrong crooned his classic, "What a Wonderful World." You go, Louis! It's all about attitude. What you choose to see is what you get.
Maybe I'm sentimental, but at that moment, if a pollster had asked me to rank my sense of well being I would have given it 10 on a scale of one to 10. The 6 O'clock News stories could not highjack this parade.
Then the kids appeared. The sponsor's float announced the theme: "The great outdoors. Get out and play!" It was followed by the Grand Marshals: the Paly High State Champion basketball team. These cool-looking high school kids were proof of the value of getting out to play and sticking with it.
There were bands. Huge bands playing well enough to entertain President Bush — too bad he missed the chance to put a genuine smile on his face. There were school groups, neighborhood groups, random groups. Some children high-stepped to the finish. Others, looking bewildered and bedraggled, barely finished. There were pets, clowns, motorcycles, horse-drawn floats and floats being pulled along by dear old dads.
One woman ran along the sidelines handing out fake money — of course we all grabbed for it — only to realize it was a political advertisement, and as such not officially allowed at the parade. One indiscretion in the midst of thousands of people is not bad at all.
This was a day for kids, and for adults who enjoy putting worries behind and being a kid again, even if it's only for a day.
Pete Seeger, folksinger and political activist from the Vietnam era, recently reflected on the world today. In spite of the dreadful list of political uncertainties and the potential for any one of them to erupt with disastrous results, Seeger remains hopeful.
He said he has printed a bumper sticker that he gives to his friends who believe that the sky really is falling. It reads: "There is no hope. But I could be wrong."
Days like Saturday are reason enough for me to have hope and believe in the power of the human spirit to overcome disaster.
None of this means that problems go away just because we get out with the kids or act like kids ourselves for a day. On the other side of our rose-colored glasses, the world of the 6 O'clock News is unfortunately as real as ever.
The only thing that changes is us — the way we look at that world. That can be a big change. Enough to set us on a path to solutions instead of destruction.