What it Felt Like When The World Stopped Working
“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error,
change — this is the rhythm of living. Out of our
over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer
vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.”
It was Black Friday, 2011.
The day after Thanksgiving was always a day I would sleep in, eventually stumble down the stairs of my parent’s home in the country, pour some coffee, sit next to my dad on the couch, watch the news, and commence arguing about politics, the causes of our failing economy and civilization, religion, the mysteries of infinity, and various other topics until Mom would tell us to knock it off and come eat scrambled eggs. On that particular day, nine years before I’m writing these words, the tradition continued.
In the midst of a friendly jab back and forth about one news network serving as the official state-controlled media of the liberal, leftist Democrats and another news network as the well-oiled propaganda machine of the evil conservative Republicans, a story caught our attention. There had been a bump in employment, some three years after the 2008 collapse into the Great Recession. However, the jobs that had been created were mostly part-time seasonal positions. The commentator went on to explain how more and more companies were opting to fill their ranks with these part-time assignments in an effort to reduce expenses associated with benefit packages typically provided to full-time workers.
After the story I asked Dad, “You’ve lived through a lot of these economic downturns and we’ve always managed to eventually come out of them. What do you think about things today? Do you think we’ll ever come out of this and once again be a prosperous nation with low unemployment and steady economic growth? Or is this the new normal?
He shared how, out of all the recessions we’d gone through, he never personally experienced any of their effects, until that one. And if we did come out of it, it would be a long time coming. I agreed. As a man of forty-three at the time, I’d gone through two or three recessions in my adult life and had not been noticeably affected by any of them, until that one. It was during that recession that I experienced for the first time the pain of losing a job through corporate downsizing, saw much of my savings wiped out while enduring those months of unemployment, and owned a vacant house (after having to relocate to find work) that was worth twenty percent less than what I paid for it. From the kitchen, Mom chimed in by saying that she thought the best was behind us, and that we were, in fact, in the “new normal.” With some sadness, I believed she was right.
We were wrong.
In the years that followed, things got progressively better in our country. Jobs returned and though it took some time, by the end of 2019 unemployment had dropped to record lows. The stock market was at a record high. Companies had brought jobs back to the United States from overseas. Technology had progressed exponentially creating tremendous efficiencies for businesses and amazing opportunities for entrepreneurs. Home ownership was once again strong, and people were spending money again, and traveling the world like never before. Even terrorism seemed to have been vanquished with the defeat of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban. Good times were here again and as we watched the ball drop in Times Square, closing out what began as a frightening decade, we all had a feeling that, one hundred years later, we were about to enter, once again, the Roaring Twenties, with nothing but good times and prosperity ahead.
We were wrong.
Boy, were we wrong!
We had heard about some sick people in a city deep inside China, but we went on living our lives, unconcerned about the effect of sick people some seven-thousand miles away upon life on our side of the world. Until the 21st of January. A man in his 30s from Washington state, who traveled to Wuhan, China, was diagnosed with coronavirus.
Even after the first reported case in the United States, many of us remained relatively unfazed, believing this illness, like many others over the years, would come and go, with a low death count, and no real impact on life as a whole in our country. But within two months we were glued to our televisions, from the isolation of our homes, many of us under “shelter in place” orders, watching daily briefings that would last two to three hours every single evening, as the President, the Vice President, and a panel of medical experts warned us, with faces and voices marked with worry and fatigue, that we should brace ourselves for a death count possibly surpassing a quarter of a million people.
Our society quickly descended into a state of complete panic and despair. Governors all across the nation ordered businesses to close. Schools dismissed indefinitely, robbing children of the last quarter of their school year along with their proms and graduations. Churches were ordered to shut their doors and not allow people to come and worship. Though large chain stores were permitted to remain open, small, locally owned businesses were ordered closed, and business owners were fined if they chose to disobey the orders to keep feeding their families. We watched as moms were handcuffed, put in police cruisers, and taken away, simply for allowing their children to play on playgrounds. Governors established hotlines for people to call to report neighbors who were not following social distancing rules, or attempting to do work, essential to their own survival, yet deemed unessential by governors and mayors. Within weeks, some forty-million people were suddenly unemployed, far exceeding the unemployment numbers of the Great Depression. The stock market collapsed, wiping out investment portfolios and retirement savings.
As if this wasn’t bad enough…
Just as we were beginning to catch our breath from the devastation of the pandemic and see some hopeful signs, the murder of a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis caught on tape became the video seen around the world, the first “shot” fired in what soon felt like the beginning of a second civil war. Summer of 2020 began with our cities literally on fire, government buildings stormed and set ablaze, statues and monuments defaced and destroyed, and children gunned down in the streets as homicide rates exploded across the country. The righteous indignation over the murder of George Floyd and the necessary calls for justice and reform were, within days, drowned out as domestic terrorist groups, who had been quietly forming in the shadows, saw this as their moment to take the stage and begin their dismantling of American society. New armed militias began to form around the country, training for their missions with one side preparing to destroy America as we knew her, and the other preparing to defend her.
I’m writing this article in autumn of 2020. After a brief respite from the spread of the virus, now known as Covid-19, cases and deaths are beginning to surge again. Many of our government mandated shutdown orders had been eased or lifted, but now it seems they may be reinstated with a death count now above 150,000. Tens of millions are still unemployed, tens of thousands of small businesses have been permanently closed, large retail chains are shuttering some of their locations around the country, and emergency supplemental unemployment payments are scheduled to expire as well as moratoriums on evictions. In other words, people who were at least surviving being unemployed, able to still have a roof and food, may now find themselves without both and no jobs or businesses to return to once the virus has run its course. Many of our cities are now war zones. We are more divided as a nation than ever before, and we are months away from what will likely be the most vitriolic and contested presidential election in our history.
Life as we know it is far from life as we knew it. Gone are the optimism of the “Roaring Twenties” and the enthusiasm about the decade ahead, both replaced by trauma and fear and dread. Diagnoses of clinical depression, suicides, skyrocketing instances of domestic violence and abuse with broken, dysfunctional adults being cloistered out of sight along with their children, are all hallmarks of what we, once again, are fearing may be the new normal.
I would give just about anything to be able to travel back to that Friday morning in 2011, for a few reasons.
First, I miss Dad. He died in 2017. There are few things I’d like more than to have one more conversation with him, even if it was a political argument. Second, the difficulties we found ourselves in at that time seem to pale in comparison to what we are enduring now and the future that seems to lie ahead. Finally, if I had put into practice much of what I’ve learned in the year of Covid back in 2011, my life would be very different today, I believe, better.
We cannot go back.
There is no Wayback Machine, Doc Brown’s DeLorean was destroyed in the third movie and he took his flying train back with him to the 1800s. We are here, now. And the only way forward is ahead. And yet, there is good news in all of this, with that good news being that in the midst of all we are living through, we still have the opportunity to become who we were truly meant to be, do what we were created to do, and live a meaningful, fulfilling life that perhaps we’ve only dreamed about.
It’s out of this belief that this publication, Purposology, and all you’ll find here in the months and years ahead, was born. Please join me as a follower. I look forward to taking this journey from pain to purpose with you.