2009

8 April: Glorious sunshine awaits the attentive

Glorious sunshine awaits the attentive

This past winter was one of discontent, and its harsh winds and lack of snowfall didn’t help. While a few silver linings are appearing behind the roiling economic clouds, things are still grim in terms of job losses.

In Richard III, Shakespeare opens with, “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York” (I, i, 1-2).

Whether President Obama can make it glorious summer remains to be seen. Even if he does, the summer of 2010 is more likely than 2009.

We are undergoing more than economic dislocation; we’re fundamentally reassessing our values and refocusing our purpose. In this period of enraged populism, the rich are no longer a source of envy or merely the butt of jokes, but a target of collective exasperation and disdain—the reason Jay Cutler is more unpopular among many in Bronco Nation than the AIG welfare queens who sponged $160,000,000 from the public treasury.

In The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck describes the black hole in which individuals find themselves when their life’s trajectory is about heaping earthly treasure.

Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist whose family was once old money, finds himself running the grocery store his family once owned for a Sicilian immigrant. Unlike his wife and kids, Ethan seems content with his plight.

In one exchange, his wife tells him, “You say such dreadful things, even to the children.”

“And they to me. Ellen, only last night, asked, ‘Daddy, when will we be rich?’ But I did not say to her what I know: ‘We will be rich soon, and you who handle poverty badly will handle riches equally badly.’ And that is true. In poverty she is envious. In riches she may be a snob. Money does not change the sickness, only the symptoms.”

Bam! Steinbeck nails what perverts the American Dream: greed and envy.

Steinbeck sets the opening of the story on Good Friday to correlate Ethan’s family’s angst with what Easter season symbolizes: death and resurrection.

Is there hope? Will we arise from this sepulcher of economic gloom?

Surely, but with history as our guide, we won’t collectively learn from it.

The latest Gilded Age is dead. Titans of finance have led us to an Eden enriched with pyrite. In that garden, all that glitters is fools’ gold.

History is repeating itself with a nascent age of progressivism arising such as what happened under Teddy Roosevelt and FDR, but in time the same-old will rear its ugly head as it did during the Roaring Twenties and Reaganomics.

Society might not learn permanent lessons, but upheavals can serve as an incredible learning moments for those who pay attention.

In their triumphal procession into Rome, conquerors are said to have ridden in a chariot, following captured booty and slaves, with a slave holding a laurel wreath over their heads whispering, “Memento te mortalem esse,” meaning, “Remember, you are mortal.”

Or, as my friend Dave observes, “There are no U-Hauls in a funeral procession.”

If the Jay Cutler saga had occurred during the Roaring Nineties, undoubtedly there would have been turmoil in Bronco Nation. But because of what is happening today, there is an additional current of anger and disgust. Exasperated people are in no mood to coddle a spoiled brat with attitude and a bruised ego when their world is crumbling beneath them.

I keep envisioning Jay as a 17-year-old at a parent conference slouched in his chair with a smirk while the “adults” argue his case: Why should he fail English simply because his senior thesis is late and only half of the minimum expectation? At 25, he’s still 17.

I’m not sure if Cutler has experienced poverty, but he sure isn’t handling riches well. He’s the snob Ethan Allen Hawley fears his daughter will become.

Nevertheless, for those willing to count their blessings, a renewed energy is pulsing, one that is positive, supportive, and caring.

A recent Denver Post article talked about folks wearing “complaint bracelets” to snap or change wrists whenever they complain. It is claimed when one goes 21 days without snapping or switching wrists the wearer is cured of his/her addiction to whine.

History might look at these times not so much as a period of economic upheaval, but more through the lens of a cultural shift, a refocusing of national values from glitz and tinsel to that of the real, the ordinary: an authentic American Dream. How long it will last only time will tell.

Still, if there is one silver lining in this mess, it might be saving some of the envious from snobbery by teaching them money only changes the symptoms.

This is, after all, the season of hope and resurrection.

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