Inequities spawn conflicting wishes, hopes

Lately I've been doing a lot of wishful thinking.

Sometimes it happens around 11 p.m., when I find that I'm not the only one still at my desk, working away. An email appears; a friend drops me a line and mentions she's still plugging through work-related tasks. I respond in kind.

We take a few minutes to be rueful, to imagine sleeping eight hours each night, to fantasize about days that ended in the early evening rather than going endlessly on into the night.

I start wishing the work of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers to secure something called the eight-hour day had not been such a temporary victory. I start wishing we could stop working long enough to do some living before we die.

Isn't that what Americans, generations ago, fought for? What happened to the 40-hour work week? (Does anyone remember the 40-hour work week?)

The next morning I wake up thinking about a friend who has a job interview that day. He's been out of work (again). He's depressed and exhausted. He'll be taking a pay cut if he gets the job. It won't offer him anything like the challenges he's used to.

He has so many skills that the job doesn't ask for. How will it feel to work just for the paycheck instead of the feeling of genuine satisfaction?

Still, I am wishing he gets the job, even though it will make him feel small, less than who he is and can be.

I dream of an economy that offers work for all, an economy that would not distinguish with frighteningly large gaps between the value of labor done by certain CEOs and hours put in by the teachers in our schools.

I never imagined an America that would so ruthlessly divide the lower and middle class from the privileged and protected upper class. The income gap looks incomprehensible to me. One percent of Americans now own 40 percent of the nation's wealth. That same 1 percent takes home almost a quarter of our nation's income.

I can't help thinking that all those "Occupy" protests at least remind us that this situation can't be right.

Most of my friends are in their 50s, and none of them, I suspect, thought they would be working this hard at our age. Few expected - especially given their talents, their work ethic and their education - to be out of work (again).

Here I am, caught between wishing we could all work less and wishing we have some work of some kind. Here I am, asking why so much wealth is in the hands of so few, when all Americans I know are willing to work for a living.

Long hours. At jobs for which they are overqualified. Honestly. With hope. I can't help wishing I wasn't doing all this wishing.