A new year comes with new challenges, needs new ideas

by Brian Clarey

It’s New Year’s Day, and the afternoon sun lays down the kind of light peculiar to North Carolina in the wintertime — clean and white and tinged with gold. It’s clear outside, but a cold wind blows down my street, rattling the dry branches and convincing the neighbors they’re better off staying inside.

We laid in some firewood and bourbon last night, the wife and I, and spent most of the evening at the kitchen table playing cards and counting our blessings before falling asleep in front of the television well before the clock struck 12. It’s been a good year for us, barring a few household emergencies: an exploding toilet, a dysfunctional hot-water heater, complete washer/dryer breakdown, emergency care for an elderly cat, a couple break-ins, a car that needed an exorcism. Still, our family is safe and happy, and our marriage grows deeper and more nuanced with each passing day. Also, we’re both still working, still making money, still have confidence in our career trajectories.

It’s a relatively luxurious position to be in as the calendar begins anew. I haven’t known this many unemployed people since the summer after I graduated college. As I sense it, the prevailing mood going into 2009 is one of guarded fear, an excruciating idle period as we wait for the new fiscal year to kick in, for a new president to take office, for the price of everything to finally reach bottom so we can start buying stuff again — that is, if anybody has any money left. But this fear… it’s draining, man… especially considering our panic buttons have been worked like Pavlovian dinner bells since roughly Sept. 12, 2001. And this time, whether the wolf at the door is real or not, I’m afraid I’ve had enough of being afraid. The surviving drunks and druggies have a prayer that begs for wisdom to discern between the things that can and can’t be controlled, and the strength to make a difference when possible. It’s as apt an axiom for our times as any. Most of us out there didn’t have much to do with the financial shape the country is in — unless you unloaded a few hundred shady mortgages over the last five years, or work for the Federal Reserve, or provided intelligence that justified the invasion of Iraq, in which case: Up yours. But the world can be changed from the bottom up as well as from the top down; much of our future is in our own hands. If you believe, as I do, that the collective consciousness has already made a shift for the better, then you sense that there is brightness in the years ahead. And whether you’re working or laid off, underpaid or overwrought, there are things you can do right now, today, to make things better. Stay informed. Read newspapers. Cruise websites. Go to government meetings and vote in elections. Ask questions and actively seek out answers. Hold decision makers accountable for the consequences of their decisions. An informed populace is the best weapon against those who would corrupt the democracy. If enough people stay informed and get involved, government bends to the will of the people and not the other way around. Tend your garden. That means, yeah, cut your lawn and clean your house and maybe put in a new floor or a deck or something. But also watch over you and yours. Spend time with your kids and help them with their homework. Work hard at your job, if you’ve still got one, and become better at your profession. Exercise and eat right — or at least better than you have been. Don’t forget to feed your intellect and your soul: go to church, read a book, have a drink with an old friend, learn to dance the cha-cha… whatever.  And if you really want to make a difference in the world, run for office or start a business. An elected official has the direct power to affect her community — and, incidentally, you wouldn’t believe some of the jokers who have managed to win elections. It can’t be that hard. And a business owner provides a service to his community, creates jobs that feed the economy and can wield considerable clout in the marketplace of ideas. But most of all: Hang on tight. It will likely be a rough and rocky ride, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. It’s getting colder outside as the sun dips below the scraggly tree line and gives us just a glimpse of that Carolina gold. I’ve got a crock of soup on the stove filling the house with salubrious vapors and there are a couple logs left over from our subdued New Year’s celebration. After it gets dark I’ll throw them in the fireplace and turn the lamps down low.

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