It’s the end of the world. At least it feels that way.
Back in September I noted that 2010 was shaping up as the worst year ever. My marriage fell apart and a lot of terrible stuff happened to people close to me. For instance:
- A close friend who happens to be one of the brightest guys I know got fired from his job last year. He recently hit the one-year-on-the-beach mark without anything that looks like a realistic prospect. He has a special-needs child and you can imagine the financial and insurance implications associated with that here in the Land of Plenty®. If this guy is having trouble finding a gig, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it is on the 99% of unemployed Americans who aren’t as talented as he is.
- Another good friend has been out of work for awhile, too. Completely different field, but he’s hard-working and off-the-charts smart. Literally. Oh, yeah – he’s recently been battling a worsening case of diabetes.
- A woman I know has, after too many years of simply not being happy, finally left her marriage. Her family, unfortunately, has been unsupportive to the point of hostility, making you wonder how they got to be so passionately invested in the continued misery of their loved one.
- A guy I’ve known since the LBJ administration has recently discovered that his wife has been having an affair. For several years. He’s as good-hearted a guy as you’re likely to meet and this is brutally hard on him.
- Someone very close to me has recently had the wheels fall off. Much of it is self-inflicted, I suppose, but she comes from a family with a strong history of alcoholism on both sides of the tree. Her marriage (with kids) is now in jeopardy and as I type she’s in a rehab facility trying desperately to get control of her demons.
- Not long ago I had a friend in the throes of severe personal crisis explain the previous weekend, spent with a revolver against her head trying to decide whether to pull the trigger.
- Some others in my general circle are confronting mental illness and significant family problems. Career issues and financial crises are the rule, not the exception.
Since then things have deteriorated. Wildly. Some of these situations have gotten worse, believe it or not, and new bad things have happened to people who didn’t make the original list. I won’t go into details because, frankly, I just don’t have the energy.
Then today my company decided that they were going to handle marketing differently from here on out. A key piece of “differently” involved me not working there anymore. This marks the second time in my life an employer has turned me out just before the holiday season, and it sucks even worse the second time around.
I have seen economic analyses that indicate that the recession is over. I have seen others suggesting that, on the contrary, we have been in, and remain in, a full-on depression. I’m not an economist, but I can say this with some certainty: if all the evidence you had to study was my life and the lives of my family, friends and colleagues, you’d have no choice but to conclude that we’re in the pit of something we haven’t seen since the 1930s. I get that my life isn’t a large enough sample to generalize from, but the problem is that what I’m describing isn’t just me – I’m talking about everybody I know.
Or … maybe not everybody. As one would expect in dark economic times, a lot of the misery revolves around money. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof. And often crises that aren’t financial on the surface of things have been aggravated by the stress that goes with dire money concerns.
I don’t want to make too much of this, but I’m going to say it and let you evaluate it in the context of your own experience: a great deal of the damage being inflicted in my world, and perhaps in yours, stems in part from very rich people acting with a pointed disregard for the well-being of those who are not rich. In some cases the issues are macro – housing bubbles and banking failures and Wall Street bailouts. In other cases, the problems are micro and very, very personal.
In all cases, though, each day seems to dawn a little less brightly than the one before. Too many of our personal lives are being lived on terms that are not sustainable. And our society at large? Some days I’m not honestly sure how we haven’t seen a complete economic and social collapse already. Today is one of those days.
Despair looms for too many Americans. We want to hope, we need to hope, we try desperately to hope, but blind faith that things are bound to get better only carry you so far. At some point you have to admit that actual, tangible sources of hope are hard to find. I can’t wait for this godforsaken year to be over, but in truth, I felt that way about 2009 and have precisely zero evidence indicating that 2011 is going to be better.
I have great colleagues and tremendous friends, and I’m grateful for that. I hope you can say the same. But at some point we may have to face some dire truths about where we are and how we got here and, not too put too fine a point on it, who got us here.
I wish everyone the happiest Thanksgiving possible. I’m going to bed now, because I have to get serious about finding work first thing in the morning, and I’m going to need all my strength.