So the proud airship known as Wall Street is going down in a billow of flame. Evidently there was a leak in the gigantic bag of hydrogen that was the U.S. economy, and nearby stood some short-sellers and derivatives traders lighting up their cigarettes. Oops.
Things are getting bad and intend to get worse. Time magazine leads with a photo of Depression-era guys standing in a soup line. GM stock is about the same price now as the year before I was born. There’s a minus sign in front of the most important number on my 401(k), and that number is close to what used to be my annual salary. Worse, my friends in OPEC are barely making ends meet, now that oil has gone from $147 a barrel to $78. Might be a slim Christmas even in Qatar. Ha ha.
Times like these, you need to take a deep breath, look at the big picture. I look out the window in Wichita, and the sun is shining and there’s a young couple in a new Jeep Liberty cruising by to take a look at the house next door — on the market two days and already under contract. Guess their bank didn’t get the memo about the credit crisis. The dog is curled up on the couch, untroubled by the rising price of Purina. Our bills are modest and payable. We still have ways to cut back. We still have our health. We knock on wood.
I’d hate to be on Wall Street now, one of those guys with a headset and a cell phone, clutching my head and grimacing in agony as red numbers scroll by. For them, this is all visceral and immediate, even though they’ll punch out at the end of the day and go home and eat dinner like they always do. When things change on a global scale, those changes take a long time to arrive at your front door. Yes, the airship is coming down and we may yet end up with bones broken and clothes alight. We may yet engage in mortal struggle. But for now there seems ample time to stretch.
Times like these, you turn off CNN and look up at the sky. Maybe you also turn to the poets. Robert Frost, for example:
We may as well go patiently on with our life,
And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun
For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.
It is true the longest drouth will end in rain,
The longest peace in China will end in strife.
Still it wouldn’t reward the watcher to stay awake
In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break
On his particular time and personal sight.
That calm seems certainly safe to last to-night.