What Will We Choose?

virusMy husband and I check on the maintenance of our home and our truck on a regular basis, much as we do with our health. We look for minor repairs and get them done well before they become a major expense. Sometimes, of course, we miss something but for the most part our vigilance has kept our lives running smoothly over the years.

We try to do the same thing with our income. We have sacrificed many times in the past because our funds were running low or we encountered an unexpected expense. When my husband developed an infectious disease that required three months of chemotherapy and time away from work it was a huge struggle to keep our household running but by adopting an extremely frugal way of living we made it through that crisis very early in our married life.

When I think of the times when we had to live on the financial edge it makes me shudder but we both had grown up in families that stuck to strict budgets that rarely included luxuries like going out to eat or regular visits to hair salons. Our parents taught us how to live simply from day to day and how to survive the unexpected. We just naturally did what we had seen them do and didn’t see our own skills for riding the ups and downs of life as anything special.

I have been quite understanding of the financial pain that the Covid 19 pandemic has imposed on so many people. I am particularly concerned with those who have lost their jobs because unlike normal times the competition for employment will be fierce. Businesses are still essentially closed or working at less than half of their capacity. The owners of small businesses depend on a regular cash flow to pay their employees, mortgages, utilities and such. Our country and those of the world have been hit hard by the interruption of commerce.

I’m not an economist or finance major. My accounting skills are limited to balancing a checking account and filling out an income tax return. I’ve created budgets for a mathematics department in a school and distributed funds from grants and federal programs. I do not consider myself an expert in business anymore than those who are questioning the veracity of the medical community are better informed than the rest of us regarding viruses. Still, I sense that our current situation has uncovered a terrible symptom of our economic rot.

What I am observing is that far too many people appear to have been living way too close to financial ruin. I hear stories of individuals who are within one hundred fifty dollars of being totally broke and I wonder how such a thing can happen in only four weeks. I see this as a big problem and one that is almost unimaginable to me. I find it confusing that so many people appear not to have planned ahead for financial emergencies even as I feel great compassion for them and believe that we must help them. Still, I think that each of us must reflect on our habits of the past and ask ourselves if we have all been a bit too profligate in our lifestyles.

I hear the complaining of people who long for dining out, a pleasure that used to be something reserved for special occasions rather than routine expectations. I find myself considering that perhaps we have all been a bit spoiled in our ways when I see angry women bemoaning the fact that they have not had manicures or pedicures for weeks. I recall that I was well into my sixties before I ever visited a nail salon and I didn’t feel as though I had missed something that was essential in my life. I laugh at my own hair that is overgrown and revealing little specks of gray but I do not feel a sense of panic that something must soon be done about it. In fact, my locks seem to be enjoying the holiday from all of the products that I usually slather on them.

I’ve had long sincere conversations with my grandchildren in which they have questioned the wisdom of our consumption centered society. I have actually suggested to them that they are far too idealistic and that one day they will become more practical and change their ways. Now I find myself considering their ideas more and more seriously. I see that they are not that far off the mark. I remember when I was young and critical of the world as it was. I saw possibilities then with the unsullied eyes of youth. I suddenly remember my own causes and how important they were to me. The pandemic and the resulting political chaos it has engendered has loosened the scales that have been covering my eyes and I now understand what my grandchildren have been saying. I believe that there is a better way of living that provides us with what we truly need while caring for all of the people of this world along with our beautiful planet. It will take some sacrifices to achieve but it’s time we began the process or we may one day find our entire planet on the brink.

We can learn from this experience and build for a better tomorrow or we can just fall back into our old routines without consideration of the bigger picture. Life is not just a day to day process but one in which we really do need to consider the long haul and the symbiotic consequences of even our smallest actions. It’s time for each of us to set aside fears and rancor and discuss the way forward. Let’s keep our slower pace going. Let’s focus on relationships. Let’s cherish the bluer clearer skies that are reminding us to keep our planet healthy. Let’s ask ourselves what we truly need and avoid the waste or our resources. Let’s listen to our young for they are unafraid to dream. It’s up to us to choose how to proceed.

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