Linda Downing

Shine the light on the sequester

One early morning on U.S. 27 North, just south of what was then South Florida Community College, a fog thick as well-cooked grits enveloped a steady stream of travelers. I was one of them and still remember the fear as I gripped the steering wheel. There was no choice except to go forward as slowly and carefully as possible. The nation is now in that same kind of haze. It's being called the "sequester." If that is not bad enough, the lawmakers, analysts, economists, newscasters and other experts seem unable to shine any light into the impenetrable darkness. The only thing glowing is fear. People of faith recognize fear as faith's opposite and know "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). Nevertheless, there is the knowing and there is the doing and a vast patch of murk in between. Even if a few please or desire to please God, it is clear that the thought is far from the national conscience. We are in the fog together, no matter our stance. The 2011 Budget Control Act gave Congress until 2013 to trim at least $1.5 trillion off the national deficit. Maybe they thought there was plenty of time despite partisan strife. There wasn't. Now the law requires $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to mandatory and discretionary programs.
Americans have a saying: "Pay up or shut up." But, we have done neither. There will be a downgrade in services many rely on every day. Organizations will be forced to cut jobs. Everyone will continue talking, but until we can figure out a way to pay our bills, we must eat words and ask: "Where's the beef?" The term for this entire situation is "sequestration." Mostly we think of its meaning as "to set apart," as to sequester a jury. The Latin origin of "sequester" — sequor — carries a meaning of "things that follow upon other things." When Congress failed to find solutions, things followed upon other things. Reaping and sowing is little understood. Some will resent my use of "we," saying, "I do not live like this. I do a line-by-line on my budget. I pay my bills and do not overextend." So do I, but the nation — the "we" — cannot return to former greatness unless we repent together for our foolishness, and move slowly and carefully through this gloom. There is a kind of useless togetherness full of irrelevant information. That is one reason Pew Research has found 60 percent of the American adults who use Facebook take a hiatus here and there or forever. We are bored with ourselves — and with good reason. Statistics are not helping — the monthly employment rates; the number of homeless; the number on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The numbers are used as pawns in politics, as useless as the constant bombardment from the science community of genetic links to diseases. Recently, what purports to be the largest genetic study yet linked five mental disorders and came up with "no immediate benefit … There may be many paths to each of these illnesses." There are many paths to where we have arrived in America. Arguing them proves useless. A sequester is needed — the kind that takes us all to our knees and ends with light.

Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at