Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When I read the newspaper headlines and watch the unemployment numbers rise every month, I wonder what the future will hold for us as a nation. Will deprivation embitter us or ennoble us? Will we help others in need or cling to what we have selfishly?

The times in which we live make me think back to the stories of my grandmother raising her nine children alone on the East Side of Bridgeport during the Great Depression.

It’s hard not to think of the Great Depression as our country grapples with a monumental fiscal crisis that seems to be escalating into global economic collapse.

It’s hard not to think of the Great Depression as our country grapples with a monumental fiscal crisis that seems to be escalating into global economic collapse.

Reading the front page of The Wall Street Journal is like reading the obituaries. Unemployment is approaching double digit percentages. Stocks fell yet again. Retailers are having the worst sales in 30 years. Toyota’s profits sank 69 percent. Corporations that were once blue chip stocks are cutting thousands of jobs, and so on.

Everywhere you look, there’s fear and unrest – in offices, in factories, in shops, in auto dealers, in small businesses, in homes. We’re overwhelmed by a debilitating anxiety that suggests nothing can be done to stop the hemorrhaging and we’re headed toward another Depression. The painful reality is that this economic crisis will test our fortitude as a nation, because we’re not accustomed to adversity.

Nonprofit agencies are seeing their contributions drop by up to 30 percent while the number of people at soup kitchens and homeless shelters continues to increase. Many people whose unemployment benefits are ending have no idea what they will do. Many fear losing their homes, and some experts say we are experiencing an increase in crime that will only get worse.

Moreover, those of us who still have jobs and savings are often reluctant to share with those who have lost everything.

We’re not our parents or our grandparents. We’re not familiar with sacrifice, and we can’t deal with deprivation. As a society, we’ve been too pampered and too self-indulgent for far too long. When I think of my grandmother, I’m amazed that this woman, who came to America as an immigrant and was widowed before 40, could raise nine children alone in a second-floor apartment, all before Social Security, welfare and health care programs.

Every morning, Angelina, which means “little angel,” would send her four young sons to the Bridgeport docks to pick up coal that had fallen off freight cars, and they would stuff it in sacks and take it home to heat the apartment. After school, they went downtown with shoeshine boxes to make money for food and rent.

In later years, this small, hard-working woman with lively eyes and a large heart raised me in that same apartment on Sherman Street. In the morning, she went to Mass at St. Mary’s Church and, in the afternoon, she would bake me a sweet potato while she sat in her rocking chair, praying the rosary.

Do they make women and men like that anymore? Where do we find that kind of strength? Where do we get real hope, the kind that transcends political rhetoric? Will we have the grace to rise to the occasion when despair surrounds us and we suffer from want in the land of plenty?

Will the challenging years ahead bring out the nobility that lies dormant in us, obscured by materialism and selfishness, or will they embitter us? Will we learn to give rather than take? Will hardship harden our hearts or will it make us compassionate and caring, the way we were meant to be?

Will a nation that has largely forgotten God realize he is the only real hope?

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.