Surviving the Recession Part II

My mom, Marion Joyce Hillier, will be turning 80 years old in a few months. Turning 80 is an ageing milestone much like turning 16, 21, 30, 40, 50, and 65 was for some of us. Recently, my mom visited with her doctor for a full medical. At the end, Dr. Nitzken informed her that “he could not find anything seriously wrong with her” and she received a very positive medical report. This was certainly good news! Mom still lives on her own in a condo in Aurora and with the exception of driving her car (which remains parked in the underground garage for emergency purposes - has been for two years now) takes great care of herself. I find it quite amazing how she manages to do so much while on her own.

But if you were to visit my mom, you would find that she lives in the past. Turning 80, she apparently sees no future for herself. My dad, William Allen Hillier, died four years ago at age 79. Mom and Dad were married very young, raised six kids and while suffering some hardships throughout life, managed to survive through them all and enjoyed a basic but peaceful retirement together. But now she seems to spend her time remembering the past. Some stories of her past are interesting and enlightening, some are repetitious and others are more discouraging than others. I wonder though, with good health, a supportive family and the means to do interesting and fun things, why she isn’t a little bit more positive about her future, even if she is reaching the big 80. Her response is, “I wish I could go back and do it all over again!”

My wife Linda and I took our summer vacation early this year and spent it at the cottage. There were no kids, no friends and no family joining us for a whole two weeks, just the two of us. Now we have been married for 31 years. So it is always a concern about what we could possibly have to talk about or what we could do to stay busy that would keep us motivated for a whole two weeks. The cottage needed a small facelift. So like a good CMA, I developed a project plan that set out what we would be doing for each day for the entire two weeks. There was painting, raking, shoveling, small maintenance jobs, garbage removal, septic repairs, tree cutting and removing, grounds clearing and the like. The list was exhaustive but would keep us occupied. Linda yawned at this since she was expecting canoeing, kayaking, walking, biking, attending local markets and, of course, talking. This was as her itinerary. Fortunately for me the inclement weather made Linda’s leisure activity list almost impossible to do, but made our maintenance work manageable. 

But one day as the rain poured and we sat by the fire with tea in hand, we found ourselves talking, much to the wife’s delight. Our conversation focused on the times gone by. We talked about when the kids were very young, when they were in their teens and when they moved into their 20s and what each decade brought to us as parents. The greatest emotional effect on us was when we related it to the cottage. We remembered all the fun and crazy times we had, not just with the kids, but with their friends here with us, other families visiting and even our own relatives. We laughed, at times we cried (well she did externally and I did internally) and our minds left the present and focused on the past. It was just us now. The boat is idle, the canoe parked; there is no one screaming because a spider was spotted, no doors slamming, no asking “how come there isn’t anything here to eat”, no yelling over the excruciating music, no dogs running in and out and no wet towels or bathing suits left on the floor to trip over. It was just the two of us. It was quiet. We were alone. Then we said to each other “I wish we could do it all over again!”

That’s when I realized where my mom’s mind was. At 80 she wishes she could do it all over again! I had interpreted that as a negative statement but in fact it was a very positive one to me. 

A life well lived would be desirous to “do all over again”! 

My mind went to a story Mom told me years ago when I was very young, when I was learning how to deal with life’s challenges. (I will ask for some freedom in telling this story, and hope no one will look upon it as offensive in any way). My mom’s parents were church ministers (i.e. pastors) in Newfoundland. They never had much in the way of material goods, and relied heavily on the generosity of their parishioners for support, just to meet daily needs. One year during a very bad recession when financial support was low (much as what has happened today with charitable support at a historical low) their ability to cope from day to day was severely challenged. One Sunday after coming home from the morning church service, it was time to prepare the noon time meal, which in Newfoundland on Sundays was always a big event. But this Sunday there was in fact no food in the kitchen to prepare a meal. So, my grandparents simply placed a pot of water on the wood stove and then gathered around the kitchen table and prayed. Within the hour, a knock came on the door and a parishioner said he felt impressed to deliver a bag of groceries to my grandparents, thinking they could use it. My mom, her sister and her parents relieved that their hopeless situation had been resolved, then prepared a typical Newfoundland Sunday dinner. 

What I learned from that story (whether one believes in prayer or considers it simply a co-incidence is not the point) is that, even in the darkest moment, we should continue to believe that we will not just move out of a recession but beyond. My grandparents lived well into their 80s and enjoyed a peaceful but rewarding life. That one moment in their lives (and there were others) simply defined who they were and how they would approach life. They approached life with a strong faith and confidence in the good of others.

The current economic indicators are suggesting that we are beginning to move out of the recession. But, we can’t just be satisfied to move out of it, we must be determined to move beyond it. That means, while respecting and enjoying the memories of the good times passed, we can’t stay there mentally. We can’t allow the challenges of the present to prevent us from moving forward. What we must do is take that one baby step at a time and with absolute confidence, and belief in ourselves and others, be determined to make a better life for us as individuals, as families and as communities. 

Back at the cottage, it was a sunny and warm day. So Linda and I decided to end working for the day and go on a boat ride to relax, much to her delight. As we were about to leave the dock, I said “wait a moment…I forgot something!” So we tied the boat to the dock, I ran up 53 stairs to the cottage and returned with a few items. Linda seemed puzzled. I gave her a drink. I attached the player to the stereo deck and inserted a CD of Rod Stewart’s album The Great American Songbook. We left the dock and quietly motored along, with Rod singing in the background, the sun comforting us with its warmth and the beauty of nature surrounding us. Not saying a word but simply laughing, we knew it was time to start creating new memories for ourselves to look back upon with favour and delight.

If we are determined and committed to move beyond the recession, each one of us, when it is our time to look back will say like my mom “I wish I could do it all over again!”