Thursday, October 17, 2013

Il Mio Sole - II

Yesterday I wrote about my unease with traveling (see Il Mio Sole - I), and I lingered a bit on the itinerary for a trip that I had planned for next week to Italy to attend a conference. Shortly after I wrote that piece, the script of my plans changed significantly. As I work for a government-funded laboratory, we are directly affected by the ongoing government shutdown. At present we are paying salaries through some unspent funds from FY13 (which ended on Sep. 30), but there will be no new money into the laboratory until a new budget is passed by congress and approved by the president. As we are essentially out of money, lab management has cancelled all travel. This directive forced me to cancel my planned trip. So, while I will miss out on the scientific discussions and collaboration with some of my international colleagues, part of my regret is assuaged by the fact that I don't have to deal with any of the hassles that I mentioned yesterday.

Regardless of my travel plans, I learned something about my thinking going through this whole government-shutdown experience. I have been hearing of other government-funded initiatives being put on ice with worker furloughs (NASA, NIH, CDC, national parks, CIA branches, etc). Ten of thousands of folks are sitting at home without any money coming in, yet their bills continue to arrive with each daily visit of the mailman. I have been keeping up with the news, but given that my paycheck has been deposited in my account without interruption, the news has really been nothing more to me than words on the page. It seems to require a personal confrontation with cancelled trips and threatened furloughs for such news to strike home, to become real. Without actual personal repercussions, true empathy and understanding are not really mustered. Unless you walk a mile or even a few steps in another's shoes, you really cannot understand what they are facing. Now, I finally do understand just a little bit better. Addio finse lacrime, ..., il mio sole.

(Part 2 of 2)