These are crazy times—renowned financial firms are going belly-up, real-estate values are plunging, a conservative woman from nowhere is poised to become vice president, and here in Asheville, we’re in the middle of the great gas panic of 2008.
I realize that panic creates panic, and I’m not buying into the gasoline panic. Yet. But I have found myself feeling generally unnerved and upset by all this crazy stuff going on in the world. And I’m worried, mostly for my kids.
As I write this, cars are blocking one lane of Merrimon Avenue for about a block, waiting to buy overpriced gas. As I drove by earlier, I studied my gas gauge. Although it was close to full, I wondered if I, too, should panic.
If other people are panicking and I’m not, is something wrong with me? Shouldn’t I join the flock? Shouldn’t I sit in line, blowing gas fumes out my exhaust pipe, while I wait to top off my tank? Who knows, we might never have gasoline again, right?
Then I realized that as long as the school buses are fueled up and can transport my kids to and from school, I’m OK. But then, I’m lucky. I don’t need to commute. My livelihood isn’t dependent on transportation. I can get most places I need to go via the bus, my bike or my own two feet (with proper planning, at least—see Bus-Riding Mama, published online Aug. 11).
But I still wonder if I should join the panic party. The fear’s contagious—it’s emanating from the gas-station lines like carbon monoxide. We’re all, to some extent, motivated by fear, particularly fear of what we can’t control. As a parent, I realize that there’s a lot to be scared of, but I also recognize that, outside of encasing my kids in plastic bubbles, there’s only so much I can control.
At the moment, stuff that I’ve taken for granted no longer seems to be true. Such as, even though I don’t consume much gas, it will always be there if I need it. Such as, that the small amount of money I put in a retirement account when I had a real job would continue to earn interest and one day be enough to live on. Such as, that my house would continue to increase in value. Such as, that the savings we’ve been putting in the kids’ college funds would enable us to pay in-state tuition one day. Such as, that when finally a woman could become one of the most important politicians in the world, she’d be someone I could feel proud of and support. Instead, the combination of the gas panic, the financial crisis, Sarah Palin, and my kids’ future is giving me ulcers.
Slap me down, hubris. Slap me down, Wall Street, mortgage lenders, climate change. Slap me down, John McCain. Oh wait, McCain’s clearly too much of a gentleman to slap anyone. Even when they might need slapping.
While I’m not yet hoarding gas, I’ve found myself doing things I wouldn’t have imagined doing a few months ago. I am hoarding locally made craft beers, because I hear there might be a run on beer soon. Plus it soothes the ulcers. I’m looking carefully at the prices of grocery items that I’ve been tossing in my shopping cart without a thought for years (except for good beer). I’m riding my bike again, albeit very slowly up Asheville’s hills. I’m saving tie twists from our bread bags. This is all good, I think. I’m saving the earth. Hurrah. But saving the earth isn’t my primary motivation here. Fear is. And it’s a powerful motivation. It’s why all those otherwise sane folks were blocking Merrimon Avenue all morning.
I’m acting as if I can ward off evil (as my boy would say) by engaging in Depression-era, fear-based hoarding. Soon I’ll have enough tie twists to build a web or a dream catcher that I can hang on my window for protection … from bread crumbs.
Unfortunately, that web can’t protect my kids any more than I can from lots and lots of seemingly small decisions that are adding up to a financial crisis so big that the repercussions could be felt for generations. Clearly, my kids will inherit a world that’s very different from the one I’ve inherited. And I can’t even imagine what kind of world their kids will inherit.
I don’t have many answers. If I did, I wouldn’t be sitting here in north Asheville, hoping that, by writing this, I can find some company within this community I so adore. I’m hearing about fist fights at the Shell station, and thinking, “Asheville is better than this, right?” There’s no reason to beat up your neighbors, people. Instead, join me in cutting back. Join me in the ulceration of my stomach lining. Join me in coming up with some ways that we can help our kids inherit a world that’s better than the one we’ve inherited.
My dad, who works in investment banking, likes to throw out biblical metaphors. He says, “Prepare for seven years of famine.” From where I’m sitting, we’re nearing year eight of the famine and the crops are getting sparser. I just hope that someone, some day, will offer my kids seven years of feast. Before the tie twists explode out of their kitchen drawer and take over the kitchen.