This is part of a map of the area within three miles or so of our house. The dots are home foreclosures. Home foreclosures from the past ten months.
It’s a very strange time to be around, isn’t it?
Yesterday on a highway off-ramp in a fancy neighborhood, I saw someone shifting from one foot to another, wearing a big warm coat and loosely laced hiking boots, and holding a cardboard sign. COMPLETE DESPERATION, it said in perfectly even letters. It was spelled correctly. We are fucked, I thought. We as a whole and we, our family. My God. All I know how to do is spell right and make nice lettering. What on earth do I think is going to keep us safe?
Then this morning I noticed a grimy little late-model hatchback parked outside our neighborhood food co-op. It had two newish-looking bumperstickers: Obama/Biden ’08. And If Anything Can Go Well, It Will.
It’s a liminal time. We’re between presidents. We’re between (but no one knows where between) stepping off the diving board and splashing (in what position and into what sort of water God only knows) into the pool. Almost everything measurable is in a pretty crappy state. Hope seems like a stretch, yet many of us feel it.
Sometimes I’m terrified. What if I lose my job, and then what if there are no jobs, anywhere? How would we pay our mortgage? Where would we live? What if our parents lost their houses too?
But mostly I’m walking through this with some kind of equanimity that comes from I don’t know where. I’m curious about what happens next. Driving through the suburbs, driving past all those malls and malls full of stores full of junk that no one needed anyway, I can’t really get sad about the possibility of their falling empty, and I believe, stubbornly, naively, that the most important things will survive. Our communities will be torn down in some ways, but they'll get built again, built, I hope, on something more real than they've been resting on.
I grew up knowing grandparents who valorized the depression and who still lived, in a lots of ways, like they did in that lean time, and taught their grandkids to as well—or at least shamed our parents—within our earshot—about the extravagances they allowed us.
I’ve spent over a year of my adult life living in one of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal. And while I’m sensitive about not wanting to romanticize poverty, knowing how life is for so many there, I can see, vividly, that almost everything we have in this country is extra. The truckloads of things that we have and don’t need. The houses—even ours, at 1100 square feet or so, is enormous by most standards in the world—full of furniture and gadgets and clothing.
I don’t wish anyone pain, and there’s certainly plenty of it rising up here. I don’t relish that. The people hit hardest by this in most ways are those who were already struggling hardest, and that’s cause for nothing but grief. But part of me thinks we deserve to get pared down. A lot. Maybe I’m just sick of the long, slow fall, but part of me takes a deep breath and says, bring it on.