In 1934, on August 16th my mother, Marva Maxwell, turned 18. She had graduated at the top of her class at Sacred Heart High School. That was the public high school in Sacred Heart, Minnesota, in the western, sugar beet-growing part of the state, where her father grew crops for feed and raised beef cattle.

My mom had saved money up in order to attend college a hundred miles north and east of her home town at the Normal School for teacher training at St. Cloud, a little burg on the side of the Mississippi River. She had made money over the years candling and selling eggs and walking beans. If my memory preserves her story accurately, in August of 1934, with her whole life in front of her, she had 200 dollars in the bank, and a scholarship to college. Then the bank closed. It had already been hard times. Now times had gotten worse.

I heard her tell this cautionary tale hundreds, if not thousands, of times over the course of my childhood: when it was time for school to start her father drove her to St. Cloud, dropped her off at the residence hall, Schumacher (which she would later get kicked out of for smoking), and handed her a $20 bill: “I hope everything works out for you here,” he told her, “because we don’t have anything much for you back home on the farm.”

Years later, during World War II, my mother took the train to San Diego and Camp Pendleton where my father was assigned as a Navy dentist, with her first child in tow. They sucked on malt tablets (not the candy but a nutritional supplement) to keep their hunger pangs at bay. From this era of her life came the stories of butter and sugar and gas rationing, and of living off-base in a house where precious avocados and oranges grew on trees in the backyard where she could gather the windfall for lunch.

These stories explain things about my mom — and others of her generation. Like why she always had 6 cans of 12 varieties of Campbell’s soup in the basement pantry at any given moment, and if the supply fell lower than that it was immediately replenished. This was the generation that came home from the world’s greatest war and never threw away another piece of string or aluminum foil so long as they lived.

We want to believe that hardship will ennoble us and teach us virtue, without robbing us of the aptitude for joy, or making us mean and peevish. In reality, sainthood is a by-product of adversity only for a few. The rest of us struggle through, managing a little generosity here with a large dose of self-interest there.

I think often of my parents’ generation as the uncertainty of the global economy continues to roil and brew. I am not worried so much about our generation’s ability to survive hardship in the sense of giving stuff up and doing without. But I worry quite a lot about our ability to live with uncertainty.

What my mother really gave up as she stepped away from her father’s car as he left her at college, or rode the train pell mell to a California she had never even dreamed of, was her sense of control over the future: that she knew what was coming next — and could count on it.

I’m pretty sure I don’t know what will happen next, and it makes me jumpy. I take comfort in my usual sources of sanity: work, yoga, my family and friends. At SOF we’re starting to dig hard into some of the questions that come up for us personally. We’d love your help:

For starters, in what way(s) do you consider this a moral or spiritual crisis? Of your own? Of our culture’s?

What moral and spiritual resources, what virtues, do you bring to approaching it — in your own life, with colleagues at work, in your family, in your religious or other community settings? What are you doing now that is different? How is it different, and why?

What kind of wisdom and leadership are you looking for at this time, close to your life? Where are you finding it?

In addition to posting and collating your responses, we’ll be reflecting on these questions in our production process and our blog and posing them to wise thinkers in the realms of business, education, philosophy, science, and religion.

(photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library)


Share Your Reflection

Filtered HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><span><div><img><!-->
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Embed content by wrapping a supported URL in [embed] … [/embed].

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
13Reflections

Reflections

I recently watched the very moving documentary, “Rhythm Is It”, which documents a dance project that took place in Berlin a few years ago. In this project, approximately two hundred inner city kids performed a dance piece to Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rites of Spring), by Igor Stravinsky.

The choreographer explains how our culture, and particularly the adults and parents of our culture, have forgotten how essential the rites of sacrifice or offering are for spiritual and artistic creativity.

We see these times of economic crisis as a time “to do without”, but not as an occasion for re-evaluation and regeneration.

Over the last decade, through personal loss, financial instability and job insecurity, I’ve had to question what it is like to grow old without the likelihood of retirement, nor the comfort of a supportive extended family. I spent of few of those years kicking and screaming in stubborn denial, and then anger.

Conversations and interactions with friends and family (my adopted family, or tribe) have made me realise that the uncertainty we live with and the sacrifices we make are a necessary condition for developing humility and compassion. These people have helped me learn the lesson of offering up my “need for more”, in the hope of saving precious resources: whether it is hope in developing the intellectual potential of our children, or improving the air we breathe or the water we drink. The sacrifices I make are perhaps not always voluntary, but I do make them more freely than I did ten years ago.

My generation (I’m now 51) have lived rather blissfully, ignorant of economic consequences, disrespectful of environmental balance. We chose our professions greatly out of personal interests or possible gains. My children’s generation do not have that luxury. They can still consider their interests and gains, but they must also consider how their choice of profession will help “save” or “change” the world.

I am looking for friends, family, spiritual leaders, and even politicians to show me how to live my life more fully, despite its existential insecurities. I have two real examples in my mother and my mother-in-law. My mother, the negative example, is doing her best to squander away a large fortune, while squirreling away leftovers in her refrigerator. Her life practices are very much, as you stated, “managing a little generosity here with a large dose of self-interest there”.

My mother-in-law is the opposite. She brought 9 children into this world, and at 69 she is still working part time because her meagre pension (after working on a production line for 28 years) is not enough to support the rent of her one bedroom apartment and her humble lifestyle. Last year, she moved into an apartment across the hall from our apartment. Since doing this, her steps are lighter and her face shines when she comes over to chat with us, or when I go over with a cup of tea to watch bingo with her on the television.

I’m sorry if this is too long of a response. It’s been fun to write and I can only hope there might be a few ideas in there of interest to you.

What a sad, but sweet story of your mother, and how beautifully written your response is. Thankyou for sharing your humanity

Lilalia,
Thanks so much with this moving contribution--it is exactly the sort of personal and concrete story that we hope will help inform our coverage.
Kate

Vashti McKenzie sounded great and sincere saying, "I don't want to be treated differently because of my race or my gender." I'm a teenager of the 70's and how could I not fall in love with that statement. But when you asked to her to explain the expressions of Jeremiah Right, well the wheels fell off. Just listen to her reasoning: first, it wasn't HIS thoughts that he was expressing they were those of others. Second, it's part of the African American prophetic theology. Third, she went off into unrelated stories of Africa and how the BBC's perception of America isn't the same as what we see here. Hello! No, kidding.

The bottom line is, and for some reason even reasonable people like Vashti McKenzie can't see it,
hate speech is hate speech.

I'm racking up the defense of Jeremiah Right by African Americans everywhere no matter what hateful things he says to the same phenomenon as what I call the O.J. principle. He's African American and no matter what must somehow be right. Of course, you won't find an African American anywhere today who believes OJ was really innocent of the murders and likewise it'll just be a period of time for the community to wake up to the fact that Jeremiah Right was God damned wrong!

I believe the prophets were speaking but we did not hear or did not want to hear. That seems to be the way it goes........words falling on deaf ears. We must remember that when times are good , the tide will eventually change and we must prepare. On the other hand, when times are bad there needs to be hope for the better days to come.

i see the current crisis both personally & culturally as one of facing my/our own greed for more, more & MORE. Some time in the last 10 years I lost the ability to say "no" to myself when i wanted to purchase things or go on trips or go to a concert etc. Now the universe has intervened for all of us, with a giant "NO." Fortunately i did not get myself into dire financial straits with my irresponsibility but i do have an annoying credit card bill to pay down. Its getting there which is reassuring, but even more reassuring is the actual comfort i feel when i tell myself "no.' these days. In the past saying no seemed to be a deprivation of some kind, but now it seems calming. i don't need all that crap AND it really just weighed me down (what to buy, where to go, what to do etc). now i have this space, a freedom where before it seemed there was this little monster that needed feeding, but was never quite sated.

As to moral & spiritual resources, wisdom & leadership, i, as always, look to my Buddhist practices for solace in uncertain times, assured that all things are impermanent & knowing that this too shall pass.

peace,

KH

A friend of mine recommended a book, a while back that has given me tremendous insight in understanding why the money or financial issues have been so difficult in my family. Money Drunk / Money Sober, written by Mark Bryan and Julia Cameron (also known for writing The Artist's Way), looks at the attitudes towards money and makes connections with addictive behavior. It's a really interesting book that I think might have relevance here. As a nation we've been Money Drunk.

My parents tried to teach me about the value of a dollar, but they never taught me how to budget. Instead what they taught me was as long as you have credit you have buying power. I can't blame my parents they were equally confused with their concepts of money. I think this comes from a consciousness cycle of boom and crash that is part of the American history.

I'm sure that our problems today have a lot to do with how we think of money, a lot of emotion in that and fear and even some feelings of entitlement. 'I'm just as good as the Jones; so I deserve to have the top of the line refrigerator.' Or 'I'll be loved if I wear the right clothes, have the right house, drive the right car...' The place to work on the problem is to start with ourselves in our homes, and the real solution will be when we learn to value ourselves wholly (mind, body, and spirit) rather than define ourselves with things purchased on credit.

A friend of mine recommended a book, a while back that has given me tremendous insight in understanding of why the money or financial issue has been so difficult in my family. Money Drunk / Money Sober, written by Mark Bryan and Julia Cameron (also known for writing The Artist's Way), looks at the attitudes towards money and makes connections with addictive behavior. It's a really interesting book that I think might have relevance here. As a nation we've been Money Drunk.

My parents tried to teach me about the value of a dollar, but they never taught me how to budget. Instead what they taught me was as long as you have credit you have buying power. I can't blame my parents they were equally confused with their concepts of money from believing there's never enough or poverty conscious to rationalizon 'Ive been deprived in the past; I work hard and am entitled to what I want now.' I think part of this does come from a consciousness cycle of boom and crash that is part of the American history.

I'm sure that our problems today have a lot to do with how we think of money, a lot of emotion in that and fear and even some feelings of entitlement. 'I'm just as good as the Jones; so I deserve to have the top of the line refrigerator.' Or 'I'll be loved if I wear the right clothes, have the right house, drive the right car...' The place to work on the problem is to start with ourselves in our homes, and the real solution well be when we learn to value ourselves wholly (mind, body, and spirit) rather than define ourselves by things purchased on credit.

My impoverished artist's life has kept me on the strait and narrow all my days so there's no effect on me of the economic downturn. I always pay with cash and if I can't, I do without. I know that if the consumer economy depended on me, we'd really be in trouble but my thrift is self-protection. I've learned to really paddle my canoe and actually feel well off. As I see, better off than many. I feel thankful, bless my default wisdom.

I have been very thoughtful since Sept. 29th, the first big dip in the stock market and following as event unraveled. I preach and I teach a tradition that has hope and faith and love as its pillars and yet the economic events affected me by shaking me a bit. Wondering, well, when will I be able to retire, or will I, and it looks like any travel I had hoped to do in the next 10 years will not be done. My job seems secure but my salary is voted on by 50 people in a Protestant congregation. What will they have to say about my salary and what kind of anxiety will they bring to the vote? I am thoughtful about people who may lose their jobs or get foreclosed on their house. What would it mean to help them? What would that look like? So, I am reading Help by Garrett Keiser. I look to wise people to gain some insight. Parker Palmer's interview was great. Adam Hamilton had a fine sermon I found online and then he had a commentary in Sojourner's. I also went to those in generations past: Reinhold Neibuhr, Evelyn Underhill. I listened to the interview with Martin Marty about three times. My anxiety is very high because of the uncertainty. I do think this time offers enormous opportunity for growth, for pondering what is really important, for developing cherished relationships. I admit that I am still in a bit of a shock and am trying to find a new center to consider what it means to walk into the future with a very difference sense of wealth than what I had several months ago.

I feel the current economic crisis was certainly inevitable. We cannot continue to use/misuse the earth's resources without some sort of payback. We don't deserve the lion's share any more than any other country does. I feel that it is a wakeup call for the people of this country. We're missing the point of life and we need to reach deeply into ourselves and learn how to share, conserve, love one another, put others first. I have high hopes for the outcome, but feel it will be rough sledding for awhile as people get used to a scaled back lifestyle. We can do it! Many of us have parents who survived the Great Depression!

I began writing and the enormity of emotion that arose scared me off into theories and sermons...words. I find myself wanting more than words, wanting to express something more than words, wanting to experience something more than words.

In 56 years of life, I have been poor. Poor as a child in a culture of affluence. Poor as a young parent, trying to repair the need of my childhood through my children and still not having "enough". Poor as a middle-aged woman on my own, juggling rent, healthcare and groceries in less than adequate balance.

I've also been well off in my life. Having enough to give to others, having enough to buy underwear without having to budget it. Having enough to enjoy the beauty and wonder of travel and artistic creativity. Having enough to give spontaneously and generously to others.

Throughout the ups and downs of my economic security (and lack thereof), I've learned and held on to this: there is something more. I don't enjoy the anxious feelings that come with wondering if I'll be able to pay the rent this month. And I ido mmensely enjoy the comfortable feelings that come with affluence. But underneath and beyond those feelings, there is a larger reality. I call it God, and I equate it with justice, love and beauty. This reality doesn't go away in the face of my transiate state of existence with all it's changes, trials and rewards. This is what I taught my children. This is what carries me through the temptation to excess in affluence...and the temptation to despair in poverty.

There is more than enough in the heart of God. That's not just a truism or platitude for me. There is more than enough in the heart of God. I just have to listen to learn where I fit in that abundance at any given moment. Security doesn't exist in what I think I own. Security exists in knowing "Who" owns me.

My parents & grandparents have/had similar stories from WWII and the Depression. Their stories shaped my own outlook on life/money/food.

People are struggling even now. Read Nickle and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Buy it used or visit your library -- it'll save you $$.

apples