‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.’ For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded, I mourn and dismay has taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead? (Jer 8:20-22)
Last night, I attended a panel discussion called “The New Normal: Life After the Great Recession.” In a brief hour, two scholars and a reporter discussed the patterns that are emerging as we enter the fourth year after the official end of the recession. They spoke of employment and policies, of re-training efforts intended to get people back to work (which don’t do much good if there are, in fact, no jobs for the re-trained workers to take), of taxes and budget cuts and demographic analyses. Near the end, the reporter Amy Goldstein presented some of her continuing study of Janesville, Wisconsin, where she is exploring what happens to a middle class town when the jobs leave.
Against the backdrop of a closed auto plant, Goldstein explored resilience, although that is not the word she used. Her word was “compassion.” She spoke of a teacher at a high school who had quietly created a clothes closet from which students whose families were struggling could come get new clothing so that their peers would not have to know. She spoke of food pantries and health clinics stretched beyond their capacity, needing to limit the number of people they could serve. Finally, she spoke of two families whose fathers had lost jobs when the auto plant closed. One father had finally taken a position at another factory, many hours’ drive from his home. The other had refused to be separated from his family, and had endured several years of sporadic employment, bringing in too little money to meet the family’s expenses.
The astonishing thing was the second man’s two teenage daughters, who had responded to the family situation by getting down to work. They focused on their studies, earning straight A’s and applying for every scholarship they could get, hoping to be able to attend college. Each was working to help earn money to support the family; one had two jobs, the other had become a Tupperware Lady, telling each party she hosted that she was doing this because her family needed money. One was planning to finish high school on-line, so that she could earn more money for the family by working more hours. I found myself wondering whether I would have done half as well in the same circumstances.
In today’s reading, Jeremiah laments, “My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me. Hark, the cry of the daughter of my people from the length and breadth of the land.” We are still in such a time, when millions of ordinary people live disrupted lives, making do somehow with what is left, and I do not hear often enough our cries of lamentation. But we are also in a time of revelation, when many of those same people are discovering the creativity and strength which God has placed in their hearts.
And you, what do you do in your times of trial? Where is your balm of Gilead? What kind word can you speak to those who are struggling? What small gesture can you make?