Oregon has three counties which rank in the top ten for greatest job loss in the last 12 months. If this statistic seems a bit obscure, let me clarify. Bend, #2 on said list, had 7.8% unemployment last year in March. This year it is 17%. My city, ranked fourth, has also lost nearly 10%, with the current rate being around 14%. This means that one in seven people in my county is out of work.
I've noticed that our city, already a veritable Mecca for homeless people, has panhandlers on every corner now.
I've noticed that more and more these people begging on the side of the road look like me--younger, better groomed, more nicely dressed. This must be the look of recent homelessness. There are also more women.
I've noticed that it is harder for charitable organizations to raise the money or goods they need, even as the numbers of those in need swell to record numbers.
I've noticed that a whole lot of trials are assaulting our nation all at once, and that years of plenty have made us forget that hard times must be prepared for.
I've noticed that there are dozens of houses for sale in my neighborhood: including my next door neighbor's which will have been on the market two years come May.
I've noticed my newspaper route steadly shrink over the last several months as older people on fixed incomes look for every possible way to save $12 a month. The newspapers are also thinner than they were a year ago as advertisers shrink their budgets too.
I've noticed that it's easy to find a parking space at the mall, even on a Saturday. Although soon this will be a moot point--so many stores have shut their doors in recent months that there is little reason to even go to the mall. The parking lot at the Goodwill, however, is packed even in the middle of the day on a Tuesday.
But for all of these things I've noticed that tell me people are in trouble all over, there are a lot of other things to notice that tell me there is still reason to rejoice.
I've noticed that gardening, already popular here, has become the norm for many families as people tear up their grass to grow food. Homemaking skills--cooking, sewing, canning, knitting, etc. are suddenly very chic.
I've noticed that people are a little bit kinder to one another and actually listen when troubles are shared. There is an unspoken recognition that as the economy continues shrinking more and more jobs will be shed. Anybody's fortunes can turn on a dime.
I've (finally) noticed that the selling of the house we hung on to for 8 months after we left Texas was a huge blessing. If even a couple of more months had passed we would have likely been in foreclosure. And if we hadn't felt inspired to move that year, we probably would have never sold the house. Learning from our own housing market troubles has given me enormous empathy for those who don't hear the word "equity" without placing the word "negative" in front of it.
I've noticed that the lilacs and cherry trees bloomed this week despite all of the troubling news from around the world. I had forgotten how mesmerizing and lovely it is when the spring breeze blows the old blossom petals to the ground, creating swirling pink drifts on the sidewalks and gutters. These simple, beautiful things are more prominent in my mind than in years past.
I've noticed that my food storage is growing and for the first time in my adult life I feel like I am doing all I can to live in compliance with directives about provident living.
I've noticed that our debt to income ratio is continually shrinking and there is real peace of mind over the ease at which we meet our obligations each month.
I've noticed that so much of what I thought mattered a decade ago is all dross compared to what really matters.
Our newspaper here is very liberal. It isn't uncommon for a picture of lesbians embracing or an alternatively life-styled family to show up on the front page. One of the cover stories today, in fact, was about our mayor's endorsement of medical marijuana. But the main picture, in full color, was of a jobless African-American woman. In bold, black lettering next to her face was her quote, "I've got to pray, like everyone else. As Americans we've got to ride the wave."
The second part of her sentiment is the bald-faced American optimism that makes this country great. And if the first part is true about the "everyone else," then I think we are going to be okay. So today, I'm going to pray for God to watch out for those who, through little fault of their own, have found themselves victims of difficult circumstances. I'm going to pray that those who want to work will find jobs, and that those who DON'T want to work will find joy in succeeding through their best efforts. I'm going to pray that our leaders will have the wisdom to make the most informed, compassionate and forward-looking policies that they can, regardless of their political party. I'm going to pray for my heart to be more open and generous so that when we do have a little bit of extra we can give more help. I'm going to pray that I'll recognize the difference in my wants and needs so that there IS a little bit of extra that can be used to help others.
In short, I'm going to "pray like everyone else."
Will you join me?