We, as a nation, are on the brink of the most momentous change our country has experienced in most of our lifetimes. Collectively we hold our breath, expel the air in our lungs and heave a sigh in recognition of the enormity of the unknown.
What we do know for certain is that we’re sinking and there are no lifeboats in sight. We fear our existence as we’ve known it will never be the same again. Stories we’ve been told, and stories we’ve read about the worst of times seemed incomprehensible to us just a mere few years ago, now fill us with a new and palpable dread. It is as if we were suddenly struck by a storm, leaving us with a sense of helplessness.
Our parents or our grandparents lived lives very different than ours. As children of the Great Depression they valued their money and saved for the proverbial rainy day that they knew would surely come. They worked with gratefulness in their hearts, appreciative that they had a job with which to support their families.
On the other hand too many of us grew up believing the world owed us. We, boomers, X’s and such, up until very recently lived each day as if it were our last. Many of us spent way beyond our means because we knew we deserved it. Jobs for the most part, were a means to an end nothing more; and if our boss expected that with which we didn’t agree, we simply quit because we knew we were better than “this damn job anyway”.
This mindset didn’t matter because jobs were plentiful and when we got around to it, or our unemployment insurance ran out, we’d just find another job and a new employer who would appreciate our true worth. So many of us rarely planned and almost never saved; there were those of us that bought the hype and were convinced that designer labels judged our good taste; that our cars should be foreign, platinum and 24K were the metals of choice and that our diamonds and gems ought to be colorful and compellingly substantial. Standing out in a crowd was the standard. Getting ahead became the mantra; loyalty and good judgment were thrown out with the bath water.
Instead we were touted as heroes when we excelled in doing our job as expected. Whistleblowers were ostracized by fellow employees and most certainly their employers when they dared to speak up and speak out about employer/employee wrongdoings. Books that became bestsellers were books that exposed illicit affairs in business and of the heart. Religious leaders tearfully left their pulpits when their human flaws were laid bare for all to see and our legislators continued to be bought and paid for by corporate greed. Pharmaceutical companies cut corners and outwardly and extravagantly lied to their unsuspecting, trusting patients as they put their lives at risk – all for the sake of the almighty dollar.
And as for us, whilst we were absorbed in the ecstasy of our pseudo sham of comfort buying homes we couldn’t afford and driving cars whose tanks we didn’t have the means to fill and admiring our closetful of designer duds and investing our pitifully miniscule bounty in the Wall Street marketplace of which we knew absolutely nothing, we neglected to notice that in the course of time, in the dead of night and in the clear, bright skies of daybreak, China became our banker, our landlord and the new Chairman of the Board.
All the while, those jobs that we berated were being shipped abroad to workers willing to work for pennies, literally. Our extravagantly enormous three or five or ten thousand square foot homes suddenly became worthless: pennies on the dollar. Money, our currency, became not worth the paper it’s printed on.
So, here we are – on the brink of -- what? Homeless is no longer the poor “shlub” who no one knows. He or she is our neighbor – or perhaps soon to be – us. The thought, the mere suggestion, is no longer inconceivable, but in reality, each of us is filled with fear and dread of the unknown. Together we hold our breath; we may even reach our hand out in the hope of a “handout” when in the past the thought would have been too demeaning to even contemplate.
Here it is in the year of our Lord, two-thousand and nine; with a new, vibrant president. A man who promises that if we work hard, if we work together, if we have foresight, and if we move forward with dignity and diplomacy, if we care for one another, and become keepers of one another then just perhaps we can become the country, the society and the nation we aspire to be.
He warns us that it will be difficult; that the days ahead will be fraught with hardship and that there will be nothing easy about the tasks ahead. He uses cautionary words, carefully chosen words to bolster us and encourage us to be the best of us. He inspires good works and honorable efforts. He speaks to us all – to each of us - to reach in and reach out and to find that which moves us and motivates us. Clearly, he is asking all of us to care again, to believe again, and to help make us proud again.
His words, so carefully chosen move me. I know I’m not alone. I know for certain that a great majority of us want to make a difference. We want to move from foolishness to a more generosity of spirit and that just perhaps if enough of us are moved to do something, to do anything for the better good of us all, then just possibly we can turn the doom of our future into a glimmer of hope.
If somehow we can find that spirit of our parents and grandparents, if we can live with less, to buy only that which we can afford, if we can learn the value of saving a penny here and there – actually stowing it away under the pillow, under the mattress or in the piggy bank; if we can be thankful that we have a job, that we’re earning a salary and doing a job worth doing; if we can offer a hand to those less fortunate; if we can smile instead of crying or laugh just for the sake of laughing then we have begun to turn us around and together we can prove we’re worth saving.
President Barack Obama’s words are cautionary words, uplifting though they are, they are chosen to touch the innermost of ourselves, our spirit; to have us rise as if anew and to encourage each of us to see with new eyes, to hear with clear ears, to put aside preconceived notions, to permit us to think for ourselves, to put asunder the voices of rhetoric and disenchantment.
For me, his words plead each of us to be true to ourselves, to care for one another, but foremost to listen and consider the possibility of what we can be if we truly join hands and hearts. I believe he sees a better world and I, for one, wish this to be true with all of my being. Let freedom ring and give us courage to step out of ourselves and be the best that we can be.