16 November 2008

Study in Contrasts

The days are short again. We return home from work in the dark. Mornings are cool, nearly brisk. The sun moves in a different angle across the sky, casting a light more silver than golden, and lands farther south than in summer, setting just behind Catalina Island, fashioning a halo behind the island's hilly terrain. And yet, the afternoon temperature hovers in the 80's. The air is oppressively hot and dry. A wild shockingly bright full moon woke me in the middle of the night as if a spotlight, and stars gleemed in the glow. Today, brush fires burned out of control in northern hills and too many people are homeless tonight. My eyes burn, my skin is dry, my throat perpetually parched. Yet, at this very moment, a gigantic orange ball is spreading ribbons of color across the horizon. And now, having fallen just behind the island, those ribbons rise to blanket the view like a color chart. The shades of sunset. As if on cue, the breeze picks up to blow away the last of the heat.

Everyone I know is grappling with their finances. Worrying about what comes next. How severe the recession might be, how long, how deep. Heaving with the weight of another year of college tuition. Loans to be repaid. Excessive credit card debt. Retirements postponed. Travels plans scrapped. Worry lines deepening. I came close this year to reaching a financial goal, a year or two away from working less and spending more time with friends and family in other places. We can never be certain of anything, but I know this for sure right now - I have to work harder and longer than I'd hoped. But I'm one of the lucky ones - I have a job I like and I still have savings. And the hope of recovery. Far better off still than most.

In the midst of great anxiety there is a palpable sense of political optimism. Obama has given us hope and the prospect of change. Straight talk reminds us that we are in for the long haul and we will have to play our part in recovery, but now there is a new destiny, within which we are not helpless. Optimism compensates for the fear. Perhaps the holiday season, despite the portent of gloom and doom in the marketplace, will bring a sense of renewal, or at least a sense of connection with fellow man. What ails us ails us all, and we face the future as one.

Summer has passed. Fall here has been among the warmest on record and there is no sign of winter, not event a Southern California winter. And yet, night comes quickly and it feels like winter. I should be wearing boots and sweaters by now, and, as if in protest, young people have already slipped their uggs on to the bottom of long tanned legs still in shorts. My friends in Connecticut bemoan gloomy wet days while many here would sell their souls for rain. I am already envisioning blustery days in New York City brightened by holiday lights and electric tinsel hanging across the facades on Fifth Avenue. I can picture the tree of angels at the Metropolitan Museum and origami at MOMA. Lights adorm much of downtown Laguna now and candlelight flickers in restaurant windows where, despite shrinking bank accounts and credit crunches, friends gather together to make merry.

Tomorrow morning I will slip into my sweat pants and clogs to walk Mona and by mid-day will seek shade. But tonight, I will pull the blanket up to my chin and huddle close to the dog for warmth, welcoming just a little bit of cooler air, which is always just a moment past sunset. Night is not day, and the days are bright before the dark. That is all we can count on, and that will just have to do for now. Life is a study in contrasts.

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