05/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Rewind: Looking Back in Harsh Economic Times

Last week, we flew to Florida on Wednesday morning to visit my husband's parents for an annual golf tournament. Although this year's visit was a hardship, we felt it was important, and made the trip. As we settled onto JetBlue, we were exhausted -- but at least there would be sunshine while our cell phones rang and we remained slaves to the laptop. We are grateful to have jobs, yet find ourselves working overtime to sustain a lifestyle, and bolstering the lives of our three twenty-something's along with their significant others as they prepare for changes in an uncertain world: moves, graduation, graduate schools, a business start-up, and generally trying to make ends meet. As for my nearly 90-year-old parents, my sister and I are a great tag team -- she had me covered while I was away.

It was rainy, windy and cold in Florida until Sunday when we left under sunshine and blue skies. We knew that would happen. Our youngest was at home when we returned -- back from spring break with three loads of laundry -- so I tackled the laundry and unpacked while Mark hit his PC and accessed info he couldn't get from the laptop. Come 10 p.m., not only did it feel like we'd never been away, but we knew things would just pick up speed come morning when the alarm rang at 6 a.m.

When we moved back to New York City from the suburbs three years ago, we pictured ourselves with shorter commutes, and therefore more time, dinner for two at on-the-cheap neighborhood restaurants, and stolen weekends away. Romantic notions that didn't pan out. Time, in particular, became more elusive.

We are hardly alone when it comes to being in our middle age and feeling this wasn't even remotely anticipated.

Indicators of tough times are literally close to home. Yes, there are the global headlines, but I am a firm believer in grass roots evidence. My husband reports that he sees more and more patients with chest pain and shortness of breath -- and more often than not, the symptoms are those of anxiety. The emergency room calls at least once a night, typically around 3 a.m., when a sleepless stressed soul wanders in. The liquor stores where we live in NYC's Financial District are doing well, yet shuttered store fronts (from boutiques to Staples) are ubiquitous along with red and white banners announcing "Going out of Business." Restaurants are significantly emptier at dinner, reservations easy to come by, with enticements to bring your own wine with no charge for corkage. (The Wall Street Journal just reported that liquor and candy sales are soaring.) And in this early spring, the homeless population is also soaring. Less obvious is an insidious sense of rage and despair -- heard in angry cell phone conversations as people walk the streets or stand in lines at ATMs where they take the receipt, hang their heads, and walk away cash-less. And then there is my friend who went to the unemployment office for the first time this morning and was heartened by the compassion she received although she'd dreaded the encounter.

"We were all shapes, sizes, ages, races, religions, qualified, over-qualified," she said. "It's no longer a source of shame anymore. Desperation, yes. But not shame."

The playing field has been leveled among us all. We, from all walks of life, are running on overwhelm -- and many on desperation and empty as well.

On the plane home, Mark and I watched The Seven Ages of Rock -- a documentary replete with clips from Woodstock and Monterey. I looked at the crowd: tie-dyed, body-painted, wearing love beads, carrying peace signs...and I wondered how our generation got to the point where financial corruption and greed usurped what were our "anti-establishment" ideals to make the world a greener, better, and far more peaceful planet.

"What did my generation do?" I asked my 26-year-old son David this morning. "I see all this anger and sorrow just in the neighborhood. I can't help but stare."

"There were the others," he said. "Not everyone was at Woodstock, you know."

Out of the mouths of babes. He's been reading the late David Foster Wallace. "Wallace says that writers of fiction are voyeurs," David said. "Like you."

Indeed, we are, and must be, keen observers of the "human condition." Perhaps we often take what we see that one step further. But these days, I trust my observations as fact not fiction. This story is all too real.

I guess my world back in the 60's and 70's was pretty narrow despite growing up in New York City and attending N.Y.U. -- a world unto itself where my crowd consisted of the old beatniks, the peaceniks, those of us who wanted to work for Legal Aid, the ACLU, and join the Peace Corps. When Real Life set in with kids and mortgages, did those of us who once derided the establishment climb on board Reaganomics and off of the "Peace Train?" But did we ever dream it would come to this?

Last night, I dragged myself to yoga, and although instructed to breathe, place my clasped hands over my heart, and clear my head, it was nearly impossible: I thought about my husband who is working harder now than he did at 30 (and the fact that too many physicians like him don't have regular check-ups), and about myself who was once tireless. The instructor came over and pressed down my shoulders: "You carry the stress here," he said.

The stress I pretend not to have?

Lately, for comfort, I've been listening to old Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" and Joni Mitchell's "River" and "For Free." I even picked up my old copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. "Trust in dreams,' he said, "for in them is the hidden gate to eternity."
Ah, to rewind...