I sat in a quiet living room with my porch door wide open and the warm breeze gently drifting in, listening to birds sing about the spring weather as content as I have ever felt. I love that kind of day. The dog was sleeping at our feet. Our neighbor below us played her classical guitar just audible enough to create a soft backdrop to the day, which had been dropped into March like an early birthday gift. The sky was an incredible blue and the 81 degrees not humid, like in the summer. Last Saturday, we went to the beach for the first time and checked out Wilmington while we were there. It was a day trip so we didn’t do a lot of exploring, but enough to know we’d like to return for a weekend sometime. Yesterday, I ran with a friend and 10 other runners for 6.5 miles through Duke Forest…a huge and wonderfully peaceful place with a pine needle–covered two-lane road through hundreds of acres of land saved for research. We had lunch at the Q-Shack in their newly opened Carrboro location. What a bonus that one of our favorites is now closer to home. The weekend was so good I wanted to put it in a bottle for future doses.
I know I may need it later. Because the tranquility of the last two days belied the fact that our nation is struggling harder than it has in decades. I talk to my retired parents and others who are experiencing losses in their investments, frustrated to have worked their whole lives only to have diminishing returns. I talk to friends who say this is supposed to be the prime time in their careers to build for the future and now they’re losing the chance for a solid retirement, and I feel that way too. I know college students who are wondering if they’ll be able to get loans to finish their education and make gains on their future careers.
I heard Michigan’s unemployment is running at 11% and they might cancel their state fair while many local fairs are also at risk. I always thought of 4-H and the fairs as part of the DNA of Midwestern, rural childhoods. It feels like life as we knew it is slipping away with this news. There have already been deep cuts to vital services in towns all across the country. In North Carolina, we’ve heard as many as 500 people a day are moving to the Triangle area in search of jobs. Yet at a local job fair recently, the vendors were sparse and were mostly fast food and Avon-type opportunities. People in suits carrying briefcases were sorely disappointed.
I am thankful to have a place to live and a job to carry us forward. Still, we continue to think of ways to reposition ourselves in preparation for potentially harder times ahead. I could easily get mired down in the gloomy economic news and forecasts for more years of struggle ahead. And sometimes I do. Yet, I believe good can come from this as well.
I remember visiting Manistee, Michigan one year on business to speak on urban revitalization and their planner gave me a tour of the work they’d been doing to create a more walkable downtown, beautify their riverfront and invest in their older neighborhoods. I commented on how wise they were to preserve so much of the rich historic architecture apparent in many of their buildings that were now being restored. His reply stuck with me. He said it wasn’t really wisdom. He said the plan was to tear them down and build “modern” box-style buildings decades ago. But the town suffered a severe economic downturn and ran out of money so the buildings remained. It wasn’t until years later that resources returned to their community and with it a renewed appreciation for the irreplaceable craftsmanship of their buildings.
I wonder sometimes if we, as a nation, might come out on the other side of this period stronger and better for having had to step back, being forced to stop doing things the same way we’ve been doing them forever and rethink what it is we really want. I realize that so many people right now don’t have the luxury to think this way and I’m not trying to undermine their struggles. But this weekend, I simply appreciated the beauty and simplicity of the life around me. The beach, the sun, the forest and the ability to run, sit, read and laugh. And I want to remember, even in times of struggle, the value in finding joy wherever possible in what we do have. Perhaps through it all we can uncover and preserve some of the fine craftsmanship of a simpler life, less complicated and easier to sustain in the end. I hope so.