One evening about a month ago, I received a phone call from a woman who attends my beloved hippie church asking me how I was doing and if I wanted to talk to our beloved minister about any issues relating to the economic downturn. (I realize that's a lot of "beloveds," but this place and the people in it are my rocks.) She was reaching out to all the members of our community to ask if we were facing a job loss or home foreclosure or anything else that might be causing financial hardship. She also let me know about a new group forming at church—the "Recession Riders"—and that its members were planning on weathering the economic storm together.
I've heard people saying that the area I live in is "recession proof." Restaurants are packed, people are out and about doing their thing, but I wonder: when it gets worse, and it will, will this area crash that much harder? How many people in my community are barely keeping it together or putting up fronts or needing help but are too afraid to ask?
I have been there. I think we all have been one way or another. We're working hard to "recession proof" our lives right now and that includes things like cutting out cable (it's been a year and we survived), putting a stop to impulse spending, and downsizing to a smaller place this summer. Actually, living smaller it's something we've talked about for a while. Call it greener living, call it treading lighter, or call it what one family is doing to create a little more of a financial cushion around us, but our cozy family strives to live a more pared-down life. Deep in my bones, I know we are making the right choice.
As we face turning 40, unlike many people at this age, we want to be tied down less and have more freedom to choose where we eventually want to live. We want to be flexible, not settled. I'm not ready to settle. We can't say for sure that where we live now is where we want to be for the rest of our lives, so what better time than now to downsize? Recently my work life has been on an upswing and I'm busier and happier with work than I have ever been. With a little more hard work I actually could support the family if J. were to lose his job.
Like many of you, I think about the economy a lot. A lot. I think about how I feel a kinship with people that I have never felt before. I think I feel more strongly American than I ever have in my entire life. I can't watch people being evicted in Ohio without feeling the pain, too. I can't pass a food pantry without saying a silent thank you that it's still there providing that service to people who need it. But deep down underneath all my worry and frustration, there is a glimmer of optimism. I don't mean to romanticize the state in which our country currently finds itself, because times are pretty dire, but I can't help but think that if we all pull together, we can help each other get through this.
I heard on the radio today that people who need help the most are often most afraid to seek it, especially if they were once living the high life and now find themselves having to apply for public assistance. That's a drastic example, but probably an increasing reality in these times. Sometimes, we can sink into a depression so deep that smiling is hard. When you feel that low, reaching out feels nigh impossible. Is there such a person in your life? Is that person you? Hi, I'm Stefania. How are you doing?
What I am saying is that now more than ever, I think we need to pay close attention to our community. Be aware of who might be struggling alone. Check in with our neighbors just as that woman whom I don't even know was doing for me and everyone in my spiritual community. We shouldn't be afraid to ask our friends if everything is okay. We shouldn't be afraid to say, "No, it's not."
What are some things we can do? Invite your friends or neighbors over for dinner. You'll enjoy the company, and maybe they won't have to spend money on a meal that day. (And maybe that counts for a lot.) Find small ways to be generous: when you buy a coffee, drop your change into the tip jar if you can. Donate time or goods to your favorite charity if you can't write a check this year. Bring a homemade gift to a birthday party and be proud of it. Just give that dollar to the homeless person and don't judge how or where it will be spent. It just might be spent on a cheeseburger or an apple or two. You never know.
Talk about ways you are saving money: Cutting off the satellite? Share all your favorite free internet TV sites. Packing a lunch instead buying? Share your recipes. Biking more instead of driving? Tell us how it's going. Encouragement, empathy, and caring are the currency of these times.
If there is one thing I am hoping this period in our lives can teach us, it's to love each other more. We are all Recession Riders. There is no shame in that. There will be an end to this madness one day, and just think of how much richer we'll all be when we get through this. And we will.