In my hilltown community, we are used to snow and ice bringing down the power lines and leaving us in the dark for a day or two. No problem. Most of us can manage for 24 hours without electricity. The kids consider it an adventure and the adults an excuse for lying around reading, taking a nap and sleeping in. The birth rate usually spikes nine months after a power outage. Board games come out. We tell stories by the light of the fireplace.
But the power has been out for nearly a week now and the new has worn off. For most families, no electricity means no water, no heat, no phone and no computer. We are sick of canned stew and the freezer is defrosting. The kids are bored and cranky. We would file for divorce but the phone lines are still down. Here’s the truth. Radical change is hard.
As I watch our economy crumble it occurs to me that many families facing foreclosure, unemployment, vanishing retirement and mounting debt, both personal and governmental, are living through the economic equivalent of a grid down situation. Last year we wondered where to go for vacation. This year we fear for the very roofs over our heads. We can’t worry about having the latest electronic toy under the tree for our children when we are worrying about how to feed them, keep them warm and pay the dentist.
I spend a lot of time teaching families how to be self-sufficient in a crisis. Until now, that has meant strategies such as buying hurricane lamps, lamp oil and extra wicks. It meant having a week’s worth of water stored and a way to cook the canned food from your storage pantry. I told folks to have extra sleeping bags on hand and to always keep their gas tanks filled.
As the economy gasps and chokes I fear that buying lanterns is just the beginning of what families need to do to prepare for a new reality. Buy your supplies, of course, but don’t stop there. Make a list of all your toys. Start with the exercise equipment, the boat, the RV, the plasma screen television. Now add all of the gadgets you used once and now only gather dust. You know what I mean. The pasta maker, the bread machine, the massaging foot baths-they all seemed like a good idea at the time. Put them on Ebay or have a tag sale. Sell them and use the money to pay down your debt. Cut up your credit cards. Get a library card and use it. Practice saying no to your kids. Plant a garden. Learn to bake bread. Eat leftovers. Invite your neighbors for a pot luck dinner. Volunteer. Make a community.
Times are changing and after the thrill of the inauguration is over we have to settle down and change too. Come on, elected officials. Say it. We have to sacrifice. We have to make do with less, maybe a lot less, so that there will be enough to go around. We have some hard lessons to pass on to our children. It will be better in this new world to produce rather than consume. It will be necessary to save before we spend. We will have to stay home more and go out less. Work is necessary and leisure needn’t cost anything. It will better to lose with honor than to cheat to win.
We need our leaders to step up and lead. I want to see a victory garden on the white house lawn and solar panels on the pentagon. I want to see a come-as-you-are, pot-luck inaugural ball. I want less glitz and more substance. I want us to prepare for the future rather than let it creep up a nd leave us frightened, cold, hungry and in the dark.