Monday, November 10, 2008

Cities of the Plain

"When you're a kid you have these notions about how things are goin to be, Billy said. You get a little older and you pull back some on that. I think you wind up just tryin to minimize the pain. Anyway this country aint the same. Nor anything in it. The war changed everything. I dont think people even know it yet.

The sky to the west darkened. A cold wind blew. They could see the aura of the lights form the city come up forty miles away.

You need to wear more clothes than that, Billy said.

I'm all right. How did the war change it?

It just did. It aint the same no more. It never will be."

From Cities of the Plains by Cormac McCarthy, the third book of the Border Trilogy that starts with All the Pretty Horses then The Crossing. Here we have a couple of cowboys talking about how their life changed. There aren't supposed to be cities on the plains. There are supposed to be cattle and horses and cowboys and ranches. Life changes.

That quote is so appropriate for today. The business on Wall Street changed the world, and I don't think people quite get it yet. It's going to change it in ways we can't even tell yet. And many of us don't know how it did it, but we'll see it. Like Billy said, it just did, that's all we'll know.

From the price of groceries to the the value of the dollar. To how we'll have to change our lifestyles. At least most of us. Many of us.

And personally, I think it will be for the better, in some ways. In many ways. I'm working my butt off right now to be completely debt-free in less than a year. I've been working towards that for a while now, before the recession. Just stopped using credit cards and lived with the cash in my pocket. I think long and hard before I spend even a dollar. Stopped eating out. Thought twice before even treating myself to a cup of coffee. Started taking the beer bottles back for deposit. Sue agrees. And even if it's only a couple of dollars, I say to Sue, that'll buy a lot of beer in Mexico. I say that because right now I can't see us living the rest of our lives in the United States. It's too expensive, not a very kind nation, right now at least, and I can't see getting old here. We're a cruel country right now. Maybe Obama and the Democrats will change that. But I'm not holding my breath.

I think all of this consumerism has really hurt us in a deep and real way. I think long ago people began compromising their values and ethics just to protect their big homes and second homes and wide-screen TVs and SUVs, compromising to the point where they don't even know they're doing it anymore. Living simply makes you look long and hard at what you value, makes you decide what you value. We--well, not me, but a lot of people--have had it awfully easy and been given so much. And living soft makes people mean and cruel. I know most think that living hard makes one hard, but my experience is that when someone suffered some, most people--not all but most--will be a bit more empathetic towards their fellow human. They know what it's like to suffer, to be in a tight spot, and by alleviating someone else's pain, it's like alleviating their own a bit. Of course some people just get mean and bitter, but they'd probably end up that way any way.

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