A silver lining?

Posted: November 13, 2011 in Money, wisdom

Slate’s DoubleX site, which runs lifestyle stories and news for women, recently asked readers to write about their experiences in the current recession. It is, as you would expect, a litany of losses and limitations, many of them affecting seniors:

Pamela, 70, whose aviation technician husband was involuntarily retired from his job a few years ago says that they can no longer afford to travel. This hurts, since their families are several states away. “I have not seen them for four years,” she wrote. “Mom is 93.”

But there is a gritty hopefulness in some of the stories. People are not letting their losses rob them of their humanity:

A retired teacher who racked up a lot of credit card debt when times were good found herself unable to pay her bills and so has turned to bartering. She gets her house cleaned in exchange for piano lessons, she catered a dinner party in exchange for fabric (she sews), and she drives a friend to appointments in exchange for symphony tickets.

A man who with his wife runs a computer repair firm said that since the downturn they have fallen behind on their bills and run through their retirement savings. But, he wrote, “We still go out on date night to local restaurants, and we tip well. If you want to make yourself feel better and make a direct positive impact on someone else—tip well.”

[A paralegal wrote] “We have gone from fairly affluent with regular vacations to below poverty level, and guess what? We’re still here! Our experience with this has brought the family so much closer that it has been worth it.”

I remember seeing a tee-shirt once that read “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you’re making too much money.” Maybe some of us were making too much money, or rather spending too much money that just wasn’t ours. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” wrote Wordsworth more than a hundred years ago. Our cocaine, it would seem, was upscale real estate, and all that came with it. That big overpriced home on the right street that we had to have seems to have dragged many of us down and stripped us to our essentials. And for the best of us and the best in us, that may not have been a bad thing.

Sure, it’s cold comfort when you’re facing a foreclosure or a mountain of student loan debt or the loss of retirement savings and health benefits. But we’re a resilient species, and we can learn and adapt and even thrive again.

As Robert Frost said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” And so will we. For the better, I hope.

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