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Jeannie Ralston Headshot

Why October 6th Felt Like September 11th

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Yesterday I had an inkling of the deep agitation I felt on September 11th, 2001. That feeling that the world had gone wildly awry and life would never be the same again.

I hope that I'm over-reacting to the financial crisis, since certainly no one has died from the Wall Street meltdown. I felt confident last week, but when the bailout bill from Friday started looking on Monday as effective as a cotton swab trying to soak up a tidal wave, I couldn't help but be concerned. My head was saying that governments across the world would somehow stop the free-fall and equilibrium would be restored. But my gut was telling me something else.

I'm usually not the one in my marriage who worries about money and our financial outlook. That's my husband's job and he excels at it. But for the first time in our marriage I started thinking in drastic terms about where and what we could scale back.

We're living in Mexico, where day-to-day costs are cheaper--so we have that in our favor. We are also lucky that we don't have a large amount of debt. Even though I'm acutely aware that many, many people have a lot more to lose, I am mourning for potentially-dashed ideas and plans--both big and small--we had for the future. I'm grieving that a memoir I've recently published will have less of a chance of success in a climate where the only books most people are paying attention to are the ones that hold their checks. I'm sad that the dream I had of home-schooling our boys for a few months while we traveled seems completely out of reach now.

I'm also wondering if we'll be able to return to the U.S. next summer as we planned and if we do, what will the country look like? Will it still be the vibrant, confident (too often, overly confident) place I left three years ago? Or have those days passed for good? Are these few weeks we're living through going to be what historians focus on when they discuss the fall of the U.S. empire? Am I being completely melodramatic?

I've started worrying about my loved ones too. I'm doing a mental rundown of friends and family who might not be able to weather the crisis well--just as seven years ago my anxiety was focused on a roster of New York friends who might have been in the vicinity of the World Trade Center.

Yesterday afternoon, I left a message for a friend in Austin who has an upscale home design shop. I somberly told her I was thinking about her and hoping she'd pull through the craziness. I called another friend in South Carolina who works for a real estate development company. When I saw her this summer, she told me the company had sold almost no parcels this year, and yesterday she said she had no idea how long she may last in her job.

After September 11th, when my husband and I were living in Texas, I thought we needed to get a dairy cow so we'd be able to give our young sons milk if the world as we knew it fell apart. Today, I was considering where in my yard I could make room for a vegetable garden and feeling grateful that the growing season in Mexico is year-round. When the world whacks out, the idea of self-sufficiency is a solace.

One of the main differences from September 11th and today is that back then I knew that the evildoer was a crazy person in a cave outside the country. There was someone real and sinister to rail against. Today, I'm not sure who to be angry at, exactly who to blame, but after years of inattention and living like we had a right to a free lunch, my suspicion is that this time the culprit is all of us.

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