I’ve just read the perfect illustration of what has happened to the United States; it came from the April 6, 2009 issue of Time magazine, and it was written by novelist and radio personality Kurt Anderson. “During the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he says, “we were Wile E. Coyote racing heedlessly across the American landscape at maximum speed and then spent the beginning of the 21st century suspended in midair just past the end of the cliff; gravity reasserted itself, and we plummeted.” I can picture Mr. Coyote vividly in my head, legs still moving to propel him further, but hovering dangerously in the air, until, in seemingly slow motion, he looks down and realizes he’s in for an inevitable plunge.
Anderson points out that just like the Road Runner, we’ll get scuffed up but make it through (however, more chastised).
I look at this era and see both a truly new path before me. A retracted world, bruised and still not over the bout (not even close, really), is staring me in the face. In a way, this is the most frightening of worlds to step into, after four years in college living off student loans and working for minimum wage, hovering between dependency and full responsibility. A brutal employment arena awaits, every company and non-profit retracting spending and freezing their hiring, and get-rich-fast plans nonexistent. I have spent years accumulating a base of knowledge and experience so that I could face the real world with confidence. I’m still confident, knowledgeable, and capable—but the world I am going to enter next May looks very different.
I never wanted to be rich though, really. And reminding a new generation where the definition of “needs” distinguishes itself from “wants” is really the only thing that could happen—the Dow Jones’ seemingly endless climb upward was a false reassurance for nearly three decades. Did we really think it could never end?
For my lifestyle, I embrace this shift gladly. I already rather like having less, and I’m making it my personal goal to really, really, cut my belongings down by a large chunk this summer. (Bless moving to a new place for keeping us real like that.) Thinking on a smaller scale is more appealing to me in terms of belongings, living space, clothing, and even beauty care (painting your own nails in the front yard, how lovely).
The disconcerting thing is who will hire me, and how I will afford health care. I’ve recently been looking deeper at the inefficiencies of health care systems (U.S. and others, too), and the whole thing is a huge cumbersome mess. That topic is for another blog, that I’m mulling over right now. But the thought of embracing any clunky system that exists currently is frightening. We are scared stiff about the calamitous costs that can get dumped on us without medical coverage. It is real, and it is scary. Not to get too far off topic though, the best I can do is equip myself with all the things I know, love, and have seen, and keep in mind all the things I will continue to add to my arsenal over time, and hope for the best. I will always work hard. I will always keep learning. And in tough times, I think the ones who most eagerly embrace the new, redefined world are the ones who can best lead it towards its more sustainable future.
Anderson provided another gem of an illustration of this uncertain, but certainly global, situation that we face, one that I find perfectly juxtaposes the excitement and fear of those huge seismic shifts that come our way sometimes. He says: “The meltdown amounts to a spectacular moment of global consciousness, this generation’s version of the Apollo astronauts’ iconic 1968 photograph of the earth from the moon—an unforgettable reminder that all 6.7 billion of us are in this together, profoundly and inextricably interdependent. (The sublime always had a bit of terror mixed in.)”
Now, what kind of immense picture does that conjure up, of this great, big planet? I can see billions of faces, mine included, staring boldly towards the future.