Friday, January 22, 2016

The Big Short gave me big feelings

I'm sitting in a real estate office in Macomb County, Michigan in late May 2005. I'm with my husband to sign closing documents on our new home--our second bought together since our marriage in 2002. I'm 38 weeks pregnant with my first daughter and due any moment. I'm anxious to start feathering our new nest, hoping to have at least the baby's room completed before her arrival. I chat nervously with the folks seated around the conference table, listing all the things that need to happen like clockwork before the birth: tear out the old carpet, refinish the hardwood floors, paint, put the crib together, install the car seat...

Our mortgage guy breezes in with a large stack of papers and puts a stop to the celebratory spirit in the room. It seems they put the home in both of our names and he feels uncomfortable with leaving it that way "should the worst happen". Neither Todd nor I knew what that meant, but we grudgingly made plans to return the next day while the paperwork was redone. One more night on the futon at my folks' house would have to do.


I'm driving home from my job teaching 3rd grade at a private school in Grosse Pointe in early October 2008. I'm feeling tired and nauseous, having recently discovered I was expecting baby #2. As I made a Michigan left on Gratiot Avenue to head home, I heard a troubling report on NPR's Marketplace about the stock market crash that had happened earlier that week. I remember knowing with certainty that our lives would never be the same.

It had been a worrisome few months in the Detroit area, with GM and Chrysler's financial implosions making huge waves in Michigan's automotive-driven economy. Lots of folks were losing their jobs at automotive suppliers and family-run manufacturing shops all around us. Todd was not feeling very optimistic about his job either, as his customers were experiencing declines, reducing his sales profits and potential. Not even two months later, he'll be unemployed for the second time in 3 years.


These memories are etched in my mind: what it felt like to have our home lose half its value overnight; the mental math I'd do in the grocery store checkout line to make sure we'd have enough food for the week but also to pay our utility bills; the joy of being pregnant but the dread of wondering how we'd provide for the new baby and her older sister; the despair of sitting in a lawyer's office exhaustively cataloging our assets so we could walk away from our house, my credit saved by that mortgage broker several years ago who reworked our mortgage paperwork.  I remember vividly what it felt like to become a casualty of the financial crisis--the fear, the uncertainty, the anger, the hopelessness, the resignation.

And when my husband and I went to see The Big Short last weekend, I remembered all over again. If  you haven't seen it, go. It explains the financial crisis in ways a non-finance person like myself can understand. There are technical terms and complex financial systems, but the real story is the humanity of those involved.

I know I'm skipping over a lot of material, but here's this part of the movie that still resonates with me a week later: In one of the last scenes of the movie Steve Carell's character Mark Baum, based on hedge fund manager Steve Eisman says, "I have a feeling in a few years people are going to be doing what they always do when the economy tanks. They will be blaming immigrants and poor people." And right after that, Ryan Gossling's voice over adds teachers to the list, too.

The tears I'd been holding back in the nearly empty theater finally fell. Though I'd been sitting in discomfort and disbelief through most of the movie that no one responsible for the evaporation of millions of middle class people's homes and pensions ever saw jail time of any kind, it didn't affect me until that very moment--the sins of the insanely wealthy in a quest for more wealth would be ignored and the desire for hardworking people like myself to have some comfort and stability would be demonized. Don't believe me? Consider the teacher pension battles occurring in Illinois, or what's happening in Detroit this week.

Losing our home changed us, not only spiritually and emotionally but politically as well. We learned to live with less, so it became habit. We now buy many things like clothes and furniture secondhand. We maintain or repair what we have instead of buying new. Economic hardship led to our use of cloth diapers and a more earth care focused lifestyle, not because it was trendy but because it saved us money.  I suppose our struggles then made us compassionate to the suffering of those we encounter in our churches and community now.

This all gives me big feelings: hope for the future but doubt that we're learning the lessons from events that happened only a few years ago; Encouragement that our political leaders want to make real changes in our tax structure and environmental legislation, but, well, Donald Trump; Wonder at the miracles my girls' teachers are working with a shortened school day and constant uncertainty in our struggling rural school district, but disbelief at people in our community threatening to sabotage a school referendum campaign because of an unpopular but completely unrelated school board decision. 

Sigh. Jesus, be near.

What are your big feelings lately?

1 comment:

  1. So beautifully expressed, Christina, and so insightful.


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