Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Black Friday or The Anatomy of a Financial Crisis

Friday, Oct. 24.
Complications from the mortgage crisis send the stock market on another tumble.
Complications from my medical issues necessitate a change in medication. Upon informing my employer of the change, I am told I can no longer perform my normal job duties and am sent home. So the Dow grabbed us on the way down, and I sat slumped on the catwalk, currently unaware of the parallel, but feeling my stomach and heart hitching along behind the stock market. As swiftly as a doctor's compassionate approach can sink your spirits, thus had the past ten minutes brought mine in close proximity with the bottom.
The faith I had stockpiled and carefully hoarded for just such an occasion as this had evaporated inside its carefully sealed container.
Either that, or it was Confederate money.The feeling of faith, the one that spreads goodwill and warmth over good times, was slipping away, and I felt powerless to stop its departure.
Words spoken in better days assembled in a jostling ring around me, some jeering, some looking bored, worse still, some meeting my dejected gaze with ill-disguised pity.
Dredging the dregs of my will, I fended them off with my cell phone and made a couple of phone calls, going through the motions of expediting this disaster, vainly hoping to hear overwhelming reassurance from some human agency.
Disbelief died with a whimper under the onslaught of very cold, very hard facts and resignation set in, numbing, but not enough.
Desperation dialed the phone again. The loathsome thought of sharing the bad news with my companion was trumped by a need for her.
A grim wake-up call indeed, and yet, she did rise to the occasion talking me all the way home, where she greeted me with a smile of such poignancy she will never know.
Over the next two days, emotions ebbed and flowed, as I predicted to her. (Ever predict a rainy day in Seattle, or a hot one in Death Valley?)
I once previously experienced a mood swing while walking from one end of the house to the other, so I sagely related to her the expediency of acceptance.
"Just accept that we're on an emotional roller-coaster right now. Don't try to stay up."
But I still close my eyes and grip the safety bar when the upward lurching stops and gravity steals its deadly hands toward us.
Oh no, not again.
Thrice-repeated, the platitudes wear thin, and I cease uttering them with any animation and am left with dull insistence that everything will be all right.
The timing couldn't be worse. It all comes down on a Friday, and as it happens, management has apparently been hard at it lately, as two of them are out of the office with shoulder injuries. The skeleton crew remaining has no answers and sends me packing with the expletive "disability" ringing in my ears. Teamsters, as an entity, seems to offer no recourse, but I hold out hope in a particular dogged union rep.
It's the waiting test, "game" being no very accurate descriptor.
Patience is a virtue indeed, but one that requires OJT, and as such, is as hard to come by as experience for a sixteen-year-old flung into the job market.
Early Sunday morning, C.S. Lewis weighed in on the disaster via my MP3. The fiend Screwtape discusses "the patient" with his charge. "We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do. Our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them. Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy's will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him; the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say 'Thy will be done.' It is your business to see that the patient never thinks about the present fear as his appointed cross."
I nearly fell off my stationary bike.
Eager to share, I plugged in the speaker to let Devan hear.
Very good, very true, but any spike in spirits was then counteracted by a spike in blood sugar, and so Sunday, the day we might've expected emotional resurrection from the dead, was another Saturday.
The storm begins to abate, but the clouds remain.
At different times I will describe faith in different terms.
"It is not a feeling." I told Devan. (If it is, I'm in big trouble.)
"So," she prompted, "-what is it?" Not for her own peace of mind, undoubtedly, but to force me to my own conclusion.
"It's . . . experience." I concluded disappointedly, convinced of the truth of it but feeling slightly heretical as I said it.
(Looking back on it, I say it is and isn't. Certainly it was not experience when by grace I was saved through faith, but, at very least, experience is the conduit through which faith is grown.)
"Unfortunately," I added, thinking of the adage, It's a great life if you don't weaken, but who wants to be strong, and again, Years make us old, Life makes us wise.
The crisis ekes out another couple days, and we seem to even off.
Has our faith grown, or have our emotions simply been wrung out?
Or is that the point?
You've no particular reason to trust and yet you cling to it. I would feel slightly better had I not floundered so in reaching for it, or made such a scene drowning in waist deep water.
"So," continued Devan, moving me along again, "What is the feeling you speak of, slipping away?"
Squinting at the brilliant cumulus tumult overhead, I struggle, "It. . .it is that feeling that you accumulate during the good times, it is all the things you tell yourself about trusting God, which are, incidentally, true, but on a different level."
You'll have noticed that as well, I trust. A truth is never anything less than true, but it can be a great deal more. The sun shines, God is good; true. The rain falls, things grow, God is good; true again. The rain continues to fall, floods come, God is still good; truer still. The floods rise higher, your house collapses, you're still alive, God is still good, truth still greater. You drown, you're dead, you're in heaven, God is still good, and the truth of that gladdens your soul as never before as you kneel in His presence.
Where we are now seems to require a run on the bank, a frantic sell-off, a protracted deer-in-the-headlights moment, the missing of a few beats while we retreat to the deep waters that remain undisturbed by the hurricane roiling the surface to collect our faith.

4 comments:

Bill & Marsha said...

What can I say? All I can say is that I feel I know you two well enough to be assured that you will come out on the other side of this stronger for the battle, even if you don't FEEL strong.

Jackie said...

Nathan,
As I read your post, I ache for what you and Devon are going through. We pray that the silver lining to this cloud will be apparent to you soon.

On another level, I marvel at the gift you have for taking your experience and communicating it with such wisdom and eloquence. Your writing makes such an honest connection with the reader. I wish you would begin looking for a publisher for your essays if you haven't already. You have a lot to say.

Nathan Carpenter said...

Thank you both for the empathy, and Jackie for the compliment.
Someday I do hope to accomplish something with writing.
Don't ask me what's stopping me, because I'm not sure.

Blake and Samantha Hunt said...

A door closes, and two more open; there is still comfort in life's convenient cliches. For you though, the open doors may be innumerable. Best of luck, and keep writing.