Friday, March 27, 2009

Hard Times Come Again No More

American songwriter Stephen Collins Foster penned these words in 1854:

Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh Hard times come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.
There's a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o'er:
Though her voice would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day,
Oh hard times come again no more.
'Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
'Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
'Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more.

Is a modern day Depression America's fate? That is what is on the minds of Americans as they watch closely an ever-rising unemployment rate, wince at a roller coaster stock market, hope against an unprecedented number of housing foreclosures, and frown at fat-cat financial scandals. While it is difficult not to worry when one or more of these situations hit you personally, I believe that we need to keep in mind that, as Americans we have been though this before...a number of times.

In the 19th century there were panics/recessions in 1837, 1857, and 1873 that lasted longer than just the year in which they occurred and are named for. The one in 1873 is a large reason why Northerners grew more tired of Reconstruction efforts in the South after the Civil War and didn't fight as hard to maintain an occupied South after the Compromise of 1877. But the Great Depression of the 1930s (although there is little "great" about it) is the one we can better relate to. I think a main reason for that is because we have better visual evidence of it than previous economic woes. The power of seeing the dust bowl families move from Oklahoma and Arkansas to California is still moving today...almost 80 years later. Seeing film of soup kitchen lines and men selling apples just to try to feed their families are very powerful images.

We are fortunate to have survivors of this era still among us. Their tales of hardship and sacrifice can serve to boost our optimism and to see that it is possible to make it through this mess. Yesterday, I was able to visit with my grandmother who is 95. I asked about these times of her young womanhood and received some amazing stories of hard work, perseverance, and friend and family cooperation. If you know someone who lived during the Depression, ask them about it. You won't be sorry for it.

RUN-DMC, a couple of later-day Stephen Fosters in another era (and in a whole different format-rap), also wrote of what they experienced as tough times in the early 1980s. Here's a little taste of their take on things:

Hard times can take you on a natural trip,
So keep your balance, and don't you slip.
Hard times is nothing new on me,
I'm gonna use my strong mentality.
Like the cream of the crop, like the crop of the cream,
B-b-beating hard times, that is my theme.
Hard times in life, hard times in death,
I'm gonna keep on fighting to my very last breath.

So there you have it; from 1854 to 1984 to 2009...hard times are going to come and are going to go. Do the best you can to get through them, learn from them by talking to others, and share your memories of them with future generations...its something we are all living through together whether we like it or not.

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