We know something's happening to the economy, but what the hell does it mean? We know it's not good -- Dow's up, Dow's down, governments are working on bailouts, Iceland's going to the IMF for help, home foreclosures are up 71% from this time last year, the pounds of ad inserts for expensive things fill my newspaper. And personally: gas is $4.89/gal, gas is $2.69/gal. What? Stop at the store for 2 cucumbers to join ones from the garden to make my grandma's pickles; cucumbers are $1 each. What? We live in a farming county, there are still lots of local cukes, but ... $1 each.
And yet, nobody I know is panicking, or is even very agitated. My husband and I discuss over dinner what we should do about our small savings account. Leave it for emergencies? Buy stuff while we can? But what? The only thing that seems sensible is stocking up on cases of canned cat food. Would not want to try to explain an economic downshift to the other three members of our family at dinner time.
Danny Westneat, a wonderful writer for the Seattle Times, just travelled all over Washington State and found the same thing: people talk of recession, of depression, of hard times, but not with fear, often wryly.
(I've been trying and trying to insert the link to his column here. No luck. Go to the Seattle Times site and search for "Westneat Oct. 19" if you're interested.)
And then this evening I suddenly realized why this has seemed so familiar. I saw the same behavior over and over when I was a hospice volunteer (and experienced it myself). It's how families act when someone is dying by inches. We know something very difficult is coming; there's going to be pain and loss and we don't know in detail what it's going to mean to us or how we're going to act. And we don't know when or how it will happen. And so we do what we can, what we must -- how did he sleep? can we take her outside for a little fresh air? would a different medication help the pain? look what I brought you -- your favorite!
Of course I may be wrong about this, and the economy may sag and readjust and shuffle around and in a year things will be clunking along again. But it feels like something's dying to me. And dying can be a slow, slow thing, the patient regaining strength, then sinking again, over and over and over, each time a little lower, with everyone staying in the moment, reacting to each small up and down, because that's all you can do, but still braced for that moment when there's no more hope, when what you had is gone. And then things are never the same.
I don't expect an apocalypse; in fact, considering the fact that our economy was steered for so many years by an acolyte of Ayn Rand, I hope to see things end up better in many ways. But between waiting -- that hospice waiting -- and counting the days until the election, I'm a little on the grim side.