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Life Is Beautiful

Apocalypse! War! Rations! Raids! These words affect me like the ringing of Pavlov’s bell; and although I do not drool or crouch in a corner at the utterance of them, sometimes I come mighty close.

I don’t know why I am this way. Perhaps it is my predilection for order. I like going to the grocery store for milk or filling my car with gas and knowing I am going to pay the same per gallon as I had the week before. I like checking the headlines and seeing nothing’s changed except the price of bail for Lindsay Lohan. I like laying my head on the pillow at night knowing my house is clean and the world’s ducks are in a row.

But the world doesn’t even have any ducks to place.

Everything is in chaos. Egypt, now Libya. You don’t even have to watch the news to know. In our store I’ve overheard the nervous twittering of the blue-haired ladies discussing food shortages and watched the shifty-eyed “survivalists” lugging sacks of rice and flour out through the double doors. These changes are happening continents away, and yet they are affecting our borders, too.

The soaring gas and food prices are cutting the legs out from under businesses and crippling personal bank accounts. Small talk seems to have flown the coop along with that elusive row of ducks. Instead of asking, “How’s the weather?” the new saying is, “Found a job?”

As the Middle East’s political upheaval takes over headlines and gas prices skyrocket, my nervousness mounts. How am I ever to bring children into this crazily shifting world? And if my husband and I are blessed with them, am I to do as my Cold War-era parents did? Map out escape plans in case of invasion; tell my children about the room hidden behind a friends’ bookcase where we’re all going to live until some unseen war ends?

But then I think of the Italian film, Life Is Beautiful, which features a Jewish family carted off to a concentration camp. The mother is separated from the father and four-year-old son. Instead of telling his son their plight, the father turns it into a game. The whole time they are staring into the face of starvation and death, the young boy thinks he's only racking up points so he can win an army tank trophy. At the end of the war, this child doesn’t even know he is among the handful who survived, he only knows that he is the winner and runs up to his mother with his tiny hands raised and yells, “We won! We won!”

So, even if gas and food prices continue to soar and jobs continue to be lost, I'll keep the lesson of this film in mind: life’s harshest realities can be made beautiful if we will only change our perceptions of them.