Friday, December 26, 2008

These are the days to remember, for good and bad


My father told me stories about how my family and their neighbors made it through during the Great Depression. He was 10 years old when "things failed" in 1929. I wouldn't be born for another 30-plus years so, other than what he said or what I read, I didn't really know that world.

He told me that when people said, "The Depression was hard times but good times" that they were lying and they weren't, at the very same time.

Dad's memories were of the Irish Ward in Newark, and a time when a few coins in a boy's pocket might as well have been a fortune. There was no big technology and it wasn't so strange to see a tinker using a wagon drawn by a horse. Medicine wasn't what it is today, but my father and his family didn't believe in doctors anyway. But, family was always around and the friendships forged in the poverty of Newark's streets lasted a lifetime. By the late 1930s, Dad's generation was young, strong, independent and ambitious. The end of World War II was when Dad, his brothers and friends finished their education. Some had lived, others had died, but all of them served a cause, and could serve that cause without reservation or doubt because it was right.

At 42, I don't have enough years under my belt to be 'officially old.' But the world looks a lot different through my eyes today than it did 20 years ago. This economy terrifies me. The changes going on in the world are frightening. The very ground beneath our feet is sinking.

When I first became a reporter I was in my late 20s. There was enough opportunity in this industry. There was enough opportunity in almost every industry. In fact, in the world that all of us have lived in, to this point, there was not a lack of opportunity.

But then, one day, we woke up, turned on CNN and started hearing bad news that just wouldn't stop about the economy. It was all intellectual until people had friends or family that started getting laid off. One might be able to ignore the more-than-usual vacant stores if they focused on the road a bit more. But the houses being auctioned off in Middletown, where I work, and Freehold, where I live, were harder to ignore. More people are out of work today than have been for the past 15 years, according to Bloomberg TV.

By now, with new bad news coming around the corner from the retail market and commercial real-estate industry, it seems deluded to say there will be some big comeback that will put everything back in place all at once.

With so much instability, I should be comforted by all our technology, which is a great tool of industry, society and medicine. Likewise, the population today is more educated than at any time in the nation's history. And, those immense corporations that were giants just a moment ago should be reassuring to me. But, none of these things are doing much for my confidence these days. I find myself glad that I live within my means, residing someplace that I can afford, driving an unstylish car I own (and which recently passed inspection), and returning home to someone that is my family.

In general, though, this generation is not as strong as my father's. But, this generation better become stronger. And, by becoming stronger I am not talking about going to the gym. There is no substitute for believing in one's own self, or those around them. Yet, to trust institutions and people that patently cannot be trusted is unsound. Insane trust will not rebuild anyone's life or this tattered economy. Revisiting who we are, where we place our faith, and in whom we place our trust, and then daring to make something better amidst the ruin of an old world – I think that might work. Certainly, it has the advantage of being untried.

The answers to changing things for the better are not inside a financial market, or in some stock index. Those answers are in each one of us, and they are going to involve thrift, vision, hard work, family, loyalty and judgment. In old Westerns, settlers were always rescued by the cavalry coming over the hill to fight back the bad guys. Well, we're all in the cavalry now, and how things turn out is up to each one of us.

No comments: