For most of my life I have craved more time with my grandparents, especially during the winter holidays. The memories we share, the fires we stoke, the cookies we bake – these are times I cherish, times I dream of sharing with grandchildren of my own down the road.
But it's not just because they are family. I have noticed feeling this way with other people's grandparents as well. There has always been something different about the way they carry themselves, the strength of their embrace, the absence of "like" and "totally" and "whatever."
Conversation never centers on things, such as the latest generation iPhone or the best deals to Honolulu. We reminisce, or philosophize, or just catch up. We discuss – now more than ever – the Great Depression, the New Deal, how to squeeze something out of nothing.
And so, just as news of the recession worsens and the holiday season hits our pocketbooks (plane tickets, presents, the heating bill), I find myself cherishing the frugality of, well, everyone I know.
I don't mean to imply that these times aren't difficult, or scary, because I know first-hand that they can be both. And I understand that as we the consumers slow our consuming, the recession only deepens. But there is a silver lining here that is important to consider.
When times are tough, we tend to pull together – within families and communities alike.
In these moments of conserving, we find ways to be not only frugal but creative, and not only helpful but humble. We are not alone in our struggle, and we feel this acutely, and develop new patterns around it.
Instead of going out to dinner, my circle of friends has taken to cooking together. We are too many chefs in the kitchen, bumping into one another and loving it. We huddle over the warmth of our progress, and we gobble it up.
Instead of going out to the movies we play board games. Instead of bowling, we jury-rig a game of bocce ball using dice in our carpeted hallway.
This holiday season, unlike recent ones, we're passing around cards instead of gifts. This wasn't agreed on in advance, it just became an unspoken rule of a game my generation hasn't had to play before, but is learning to play quickly and as strategically as possible. I see character building right before my eyes.
People say money woes put more strain on relationships than any other factor. Maybe so, but when money woes hit everyone at the same time, I see us pulling together. We do so in ways that are subtle and unspoken, ways that might not make news headlines but still define who we are when the going gets rough.
I see a huddle. In my family. In my city. In my country. It is both metaphorical and literal.
My grandparents haven't seen it in a long time, but they tell me they recognize it from their own childhoods. It is strength derived not from the trying times themselves, but from the ways we help one another through them.