What have we learned from the recession?

The entertainer Sophie Tucker once declared, “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” Both business owners whose bottom line has suffered and those who have been out of work can relate to Ms. Tucker’s statement. A bad economy is hard on almost everyone.

However, a chaplain at nearby Rush Oak Park Hospital told me something a few months ago that may allow us to reflect on these hard economic times from a different angle. Of his work with terminal patients, he said, “Dying isn’t the problem. The problem is our response to dying.”

Hard times tend to test the truth of what we’ve been taught. Hard times separate clichés from wisdom. Many of you know the Serenity Prayer used so much in 12-step recovery programs:

God, grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change;

Courage to change what I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

As I understand that prayer, it’s saying that a happy, peaceful spirit has more to do with how we respond to our circumstances than the circumstances themselves. It’s pretty much the same thing that the chaplain was saying about dying.

I’ve spent literally thousands of hours in nursing homes. I’ve observed people dealing with blindness, paralysis, incontinence, dementia, physical pain and loneliness. Some respond to their afflictions with resentment, irritability and bitterness, while others exhibit patience and serenity. Those residents share the same set of symptoms and circumstances. So why are some serene and others ornery?

Similarly, I watched the organizers of SummerFest when they happened to be huddled under a tent during one of the downpours that interrupted the event, thereby diminishing the bottom line. I’m not sure, of course, what their internal “weather” was as Mother Nature temporarily showed who’s boss. But they seemed to take it in stride. The absence of cursing in the tent revealed to me that they weren’t going to let something they could not control interfere with their own peace of mind.

So, here I was camping in Wisconsin, and I pulled into Point Beach State Forest as the monsoon we had two Tuesdays ago was pouring buckets of rain on my parade. The last thing I wanted to do on my little two-day getaway was set up my tent in a rainstorm. The thought of spending the night in a damp sleeping bag was not what I was fantasizing about back home as I was looking out my window at asphalt parking lots and six-story condo buildings.

It was a test, of course, to see what I’d learned from the recession. Was I going to let the external weather spoil my internal weather? Or was I going to stay internally warm and dry as the rain poured down?

To be honest, I was only partially successful. But that’s not the point. The point is that some healthy folks in the chamber, along with some good friends in AA, along with what I hear almost every Sunday in church, have taught me what I need to know and do in such a situation. They’ve taught me not to let what is out of my control take charge of the only thing I can control – my attitude.

The day after I got back from camping, I went to a Cubs game. As it turned out, Kosuke hit a walk-off, game-winning RBI single. My friend and I sang, “Go, Cubs, Go!” along with 35,000 other “true believers.” We felt happy as we walked out of Wrigley Field.

But on the train ride home, I got to thinking. If I let the fortunes of the Cubs determine my internal weather, I’m going to be depressed more often than not. What’s more, I would not have learned anything from the hard economic times we’re going through.

The spiritual bottom line is what your grandma, who had learned a thing or two from having gone through the Great Depression, had been trying to get through to you. God grant me the serenity to …

Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.