At Your Service: September 24, 2008

He’s 97 years old and every day he visits his wife of 72 years in the nursing home. He took care of her at home until she needed more than he could provide. “We did it all together; it is so hard to go on without her by my side,” he says. His visits are as close as they can get to being together again. So, given the choice, he chooses to buy the gas for the trip rather than eat three meals a day.
She’s 22 and does whatever work she can pick up, mostly she cleans houses and waitresses. Dropping out of school may have been a mistake, but, she was too embarrassed to stay there pregnant. She has managed to take care of her little family without going on welfare; she doesn’t even use food stamps. The support of an equally proud family helps her to get by, but the cost of heating this winter scares them all.
They planned for their retirement, moving permanently into what had been their second home here just a few years ago. They watched as many of their investments took a nosedive and now worry that a recovery will take longer than their savings can carry them. A mild stroke has left the former businessman unable to work, but doesn’t stop him from volunteering where he can. She is looking into “work from home” opportunities on the Internet. The life they are living is far from the “golden years” they anticipated.
Their family business took all their savings to establish and they opened their doors to great success. Hard work is in their genes and has kept them open despite the declining number of customers who can afford their services. Like their neighbors, they keep cutting back on unnecessary expenses. The cost of the goods they sell keeps going up but they fight daily to keep their prices down.
They have three small children who are their pride and joy. He was born and raised here, holds down a full-time job and works on the side as a handyman. She works part time, but spends the bulk of her time taking care of the kids. Despite all their efforts, they never seem to get ahead of the bills, but have kept the lights on and paid their mortgage. Their future hangs in the balance of government cut backs.
These are very real people who live in our community. You would never know that any of them struggle from their demeanor. Their smiles preclude the fact that they are quite afraid of what lies ahead for them. While none of them would countenance being considered victims, they are among the millions nationwide challenged by the fallout from the situation in the international financial markets.
As I write, Congress and the Administration are negotiating a plan to turn around the crisis on Wall Street. No matter what they do, the situation will take the next few years to sort out. As our legislators seek solutions to an extremely complex situation, let us hope they remember that the ultimate consequences of their decisions will be felt by ordinary people.
Yet, there remain reasons for hope. I was reminded this morning that, “only a fool bets against the American people.” We have been through worse and we will survive this crisis by doing what we have often done before – hanging in there and working smart. This is the time to not only tighten our own belts, but to be generous to those who have less to work with. We can take care of our neighbors struggling to make ends meet and bolster our local businesses.
In the face of so much uncertainty, it is even more important to shop locally. While the attractions of the big discount stores loom large, the price of lost local revenue is larger. Every dollar spent outside the community translates into fewer jobs here at home and will force some marginal businesses to close. The money spent on gasoline for the trip offsets a portion of any savings, creating another reason to stay close.
There will continue to be opportunities for individuals to create the next big thing. Perhaps someone reading this has an idea that will generate new jobs for people here. Technology offers other possibilities via the Internet and the world wide web. The day is not lost until we say “uncle.” Now is the time to think creatively, invest in the stock of our own dreams and in the spirit that keeps us, like those above believing that they will make it through. We can and we will.