Monday, March 02, 2009

Life. And death.

Much of the marketing copy I write these days includes a directive to find unique ways of saying: "In these tough economic times."

With AIG needing yet another bailout, the schools at risk of early closure, record-breaking unemployment, foundations and philanthropic organizations scrambling, "tough times," hardly covers it. I like the word "crisis" better, actually--but, like single-word sentences, "crisis" has also been used to death. To death? Is that what this is all about? Good old fear of mortality rising up around us like the stink off of a stiff?

All around us, tried and true economic fixes are failing. Zapping the economy with low interest, incentives, stimulus, recovery dollars--none of these infusions has positively impacted the stock market--which just today celebrated its lowest opening bell since the 70's. My husband, a schoolteacher with more than 20 years in the public school sector, was asked to fill out a survey over the weekend. The Beaverton school district stoked the survey with disclaimers, and basically, the query had the tenor of: We have no intention of doing this AT THIS TIME, but, would you leap at the chance to put enough dough in your pocket to buy health insurance for five years if we squeezed your ass out the door next year so we could hire newbies at less than half your salary? Oh, and, by the way, would you commit to being on the substitute teacher roll for X years as part of this deal?

Perhaps the district is worried about culling all the fresh-out-of-school teachers from the sub pool, and wants to cover their butts with the veterans. Hard to say. But one thing is certain, the air is full of people scrambling. Holding on. Not wanting to let go. Fear.

So long, Rocky Mountain News. Bye-bye rising GNP. Fresh out of college, needing to pay off staggering student loans? Hope you like yanking espresso machines. No, wait, Starbucks is closing stores! There goes the neighborhood.

I always get a pit in my gut when I pass by a newly shuttered store or restaurant. It hits me like the dissolution of long-time couples I always thought were still madly in love. Failure is so easily internalized. And yet, I can't seem to keep death out of my writing. Pretty much everything I write involves loss. Love and loss: my two great obsessions.

And now, in my real life, I am facing the imminent death of my mother-in-law, who is literally shrinking from our sight. Witnessing this human downsizing over the last three months has been a compressed version of solid companies collapsing and quickly placed "for lease" signs pasted on to merchant windows. It's a one-way ticket. There won't be anyone new occupying Dorothy's body. She's leaving us bit by bit, forever.

And meanwhile, daffodils poke up. All of the perennial hallmarks: greener grass, longer days, the occasional warm burst of air. Dorothy's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue to live and grow and work and play and love.

Our infinite capacity to create and continue is our only salvation with so much death around us. We will find new ways to do business. To read the news. To ensure education for our next generation. To keep the dying safe and comfortable while we say good bye.

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