I can’t help it. I rip up boxes into little pieces before throwing them into the trash. It's in my blood, I guess. As a little boy, I watched my grandfather do this. He never told me why, but I think it was because he liked to get the biggest bang for his buck using a garbage bag. At least that’s why I do it.
My grandfather, who came to this country from Italy, lived through the Great Depression. An experience like that changes a person. I remember he would even save his leftover coffee so he could microwave it and enjoy it later. I’m not there yet.
People who lived through that dark time in history were deeply affected. Recently, I was talking to a friend who said, “my grandma was such a packrat. She never threw anything away. She lived through the Great Depression, you know.” The Great Depression affected our nation for many years. Many people struggled as the unemployment rate in 1933 was twenty-three percent.
You’ve probably had conversations with those who were affected by those times. For the most part, those who remember those times would say, “we didn’t know we were poor. We were just like everybody else.” And yet, the events of that time deeply changed the attitudes and behaviors of those involved.
I can’t claim to be a Bob Dylan fan. I was born too late for that. But, I do remember hearing his mid-60s song, “The Times They are A-Changin.” The phrase would make a nice refrigerator magnet to describe where we are right now.
We are living in an amazing time in history. In my opinion, what we’re experiencing now will leave an indelible mark upon our world, our nation, and our families. Some of the changes on the horizon will be good. Others, not so much. I believe it will go down in history as one of those “defining moments” of our culture.
I’m not a prophet or philosopher, but as a pastor and professor, I have had the chance, like you, to evaluate human behavior and form an opinion. Throwing a wider net, I’ve also asked friends on social media sites to offer their opinion on how they believe these “times” will change us.
Originally, I thought I would be able to squeeze the information into one article, but the box was too big and, taking a lesson from Papa, I’ll have to tear it into several parts.
I believe one of the ways we will be affected is the resurgence of self-reliance and minimalism. This will be a good thing (at least for the family).
Facing empty store shelves was a real eye-opener for many people. “I can’t believe there’s no toilet paper” we heard people complain. A relatively “minor issue” (relatively speaking) caused major panic at the time.
The problem was, people who complained about the selfishness of others, rushed to the stores themselves and left with carts full of toilet paper uttering the manta, “the one with the most toilet paper wins.” This was nothing less than fear and panic.
This panic unearthed a deeper issue. The issue at hand is that we are not products of the Great Depression. Just the opposite, we are products of times of plenty and abundance. Most of us have enjoyed wonderful prosperity in this country. It’s all we have known. We’ve always lived in a time when if you needed it you could get it.
I’ve had the wonderful privilege of visiting some very poor places in the world. Probably the worst was Haiti. Most of the people in Haiti have no electricity, no running water, and no modern conveniences. They walk everywhere they go, often without shoes. They spend most of their day just trying to survive. As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests, they can’t move up the ladder of success because they’re too busy just trying to stay alive. They don’t know any different.
Most of us simply can’t process that. We’ve been blessed in this country—we just didn’t know it. Here in the States, what we have experienced is, if you had the money--you could get it. Hit the easy button. But, in the midst of this crisis, that has not been the case. Even Amazon was not delivering toilet paper. That concept is difficult for us to process.
These experiences have taught us what it means to struggle—at least a little. This has caused us to do some deep, introspective thinking about what is really important and has caused us to appreciate the simple things maybe that we took for granted.
“I’m looking forward to just going out to eat a meal,” my wife said the other day. I agreed. Generally, on Sunday afternoon, after a busy day at church, my wife and I would go out to eat. It was a wonderful, relaxing time. I think when things get back to “normal” we will appreciate these times so much more.
Some of the items that have been missing from store shelves were basic foods and staples. I don’t think this was a result of panic, but a result of necessity. According to an article in Business Insider, before this challenging time, Americans ate out about six times a week. In Missouri, that adds up to about $2500 per year. I think one of the reasons the shelves were so empty is because people began eating at home—again. Some families are learning what it means to cook and eat at home.
Not too long ago, we had some friends surprise us with some farm fresh eggs and home-canned veggies. It was such a sweet and thoughtful gesture! It also made me think “hmmm…maybe I should think about that a little more seriously.” But then again, I didn’t even know how to grow toilet paper.
I’ll definitely pay more attention to my garden this year. In recent years, we just gardened for fun and complained about the squirrels taking one bite out of every tomato. I just loved seeing them grow, and honestly, squirrels have to eat too. But, in the future, we might take it a little more seriously. We might even have squirrel soup (with a tomato base, of course).
I have sat back in amazement and watched friends and neighbors practice resiliency, self-reliance, and minimalism. I’ve been so encouraged by folks who have been innovative and discovered different ways to survive and thrive during this challenging time. Families are eating together, playing games together, and getting to know one another. Parents are taking responsibility for their child’s education. People are stepping out of their comfort zone and taking responsibility for things that, in times past, we paid others to do.
We’re also becoming more frugal and saving for a rainy day. One friend said, “I’m evaluating everything that I have and determining what I really need. It’s been eye-opening.” Another friend said, “One thing I’ve learned is that I will always have a month of toilet paper on hand.”
The times, they are a-changin’. They always have and they always will. There is no such thing as a “new normal”. Normal is simply a product of an ever-changing environment. The great hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, had the uncanny ability, as he said, not to skate to where the puck was—but to where the puck is going.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer.