Sunday in the Park
January 30, 2009
We are living in difficult times. People are losing their jobs at an alarming rate. Not just people friends, family, co-workers. Personal health crises are up. Ditto assaults on persons. And with each passing day, fear seems to be running neck and neck with hope.
There is a bit of the survival of the fittest taking hold in a way that’s not pretty. What can happen in ugly times is that folks can get ugly. Good people, painted into corners, lash out inappropriately, just to feel they have some power over some piece of their lives, where mostly they feel pretty powerless.
Around town the rate of relationship problems seems to be on the rise. Embarrassment at financial issues seems to cloud safe places where there was once both love and respect. I have never known so many people, personally and professionally, to be hurting.
The tough times will change us. Redefine us. Every article you read or story you listen to tells us, repeatedly, that much of what we are experiencing right now hasn’t been like this since the Great Depression, so, for most of us on the planet, not in our lifetimes.
A lot of us Boomers with elderly parents have heard their stories of survival of those times and their fear those grim years would return, and have watched them favor cash over credit all their lives. They were a prudent generation.
We came along when the entire landscape was changing. Equal rights, equal pay, free love, peace not war, new expressive music and dance and theater, readily available recreational drugs, new technology, new frontiers.
Recommended Stories For You
My adult children take many of the breakthroughs of my generation for granted. Just as their children will take for granted the idea, and now the fact, that truly anyone can grow up to be president in our great country.
Wise people who have spent a lifetime understanding and working with finances understand that our increased global economy changed the rules. It changed our responsibilities too. Understanding all that cause-and-effect stuff is more than just trendy talk about recycling being, say, thrifty or hip; it too becomes a matter of survival. And when the tainted toothpaste from China is tossed out half used by the San Francisco Nob Hill matron, the world concerns come home to roost. When weather disasters increase around the globe in extreme ways, we understand that the rules and the predictability we grew up with are changing at an alarming pace.
Ever-morphing technology can either be cartoon Jetson-like sci fi come to life, or overwhelming, or thrilling and mind expanding. Our ability to go on line and send $25 as start-up money for someone in a Third World country makes philanthropy available to many.
But if we let ourselves get sucked into the eddy of muck of the economy and have it twist us around endlessly, we will be dizzy and stuck. If we let difficult times make us into difficult people, then we have lost so much more than money. A scarcity mentality can either make us fierce or resourceful. As marginalized or imprisoned people have known for centuries, we always have the ability to choose each day how we think. No one owns or (yet) controls our thinking. And as we think we behave.
It sounds clichéd and hackneyed sometimes to talk about a positive attitude, but doctors will tell you stories of miracle recoveries by folks who had nothing left but hope. And there will be stories soon about businesses that scaled down and back and to the bone to survive and what those companies did, person by person, to keep each other afloat.
The other night in a moment of personal escape I was watching some bad television (not reality shows I haven’t sunk to that level yet): cheesy, mindless shows that come to lovely conclusions and resolutions in less than 60 minutes. And in the middle of one of those a commercial came on that actually captured my attention. Have you seen it? The rather-British-looking man with the giant red umbrella? It was like a mini-movie about imagination and creativity and ingenuity and caring and safety and hope. And I wanted to know at the end what product was being sold. I believe it was for Travelers Insurance. I’m gonna look for that commercial again so I can better remember the one-minute journey I could go on by rethinking the uses for an umbrella, albeit a rather magical umbrella.
It will take all that now. Those imaginary short trips. The knowledge that there is still an abundance of telemarketers who leave those messages about a car warranty that is due to expire or a trip you may have won or how to reduce your high credit-card balance. Someone is paying someone to make those calls. Still. Incredible.
And if we can’t all be doing the work or running businesses the way we had planned and hoped and even done in the past, then this is the very time for planning and imagining and being creative and maybe even on occasion combing that with a bit of magical realism.
This too shall pass, an older friend always says to me whenever I have lamented about any sad/bad/mad part of life in the last 35 years. Which honestly never felt like very useful advice at the moment, but I now am starting to understand the wisdom of her words. Next week the groundhog will tell us how much longer until winter becomes spring and we will take that piece of magical realism/folk wisdom as if it were as rational as high tech words from Bill Gates. But spring will come, followed by summer, and while the economy may be the just the same, the landscape will change.
And if we use random acts of kindness as a self-measurement, we can moment to moment change our reality and maybe someone else’s any day, like Sunday in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. She is also a former editor of The Park Record.