Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Our heart is gone"

The Depression has wrought havoc with fortunes. Not only the speculative, paper kind have diminished, but the substantial kind have been depleted. Industry has lagged, buying power been curtailed, charity has failed to meet insistent needs, and even the time honored respect for educational expenditures has been thoroughly challenged. Every department of life has been effected and every stratum of society influenced more or less. Men live by bread, and bread is lacking because there is no work.

Men live by bread, but not by bread alone, and with all the seriousness of the economic situation the Depression has another more sinister aspect—the spiritual. Morale has been lowered, character shaken, and spirit broken.

“We have lost character” says Will Durant, “we squeal so.” Undoubtedly the ease and superfluity of life’s setting had made us “soft.” We needed discipline—and we got it. In many ways the hard times have helped us to face reality. But the fact remains that multitudes of people have lost their grip.

Early in the 1930s the associated charities made a ruling that no family could receive aid that owned an automobile or a radio. But it soon became apparent that the auto might be a means of livelihood in many cases so exceptions were made. As to the radio, the ruling stood until a wise school principal (one whom to certain knowledge knows more homes and hearts than any other individual in our town), until this man of sense impressed the charities that morale was a concern that they had overlooked and that an inexpensive radio was a great implement of spirit in many a home. Expensive they had been in the palmy days, but their intrinsic value had shrunk pitifully while their intangible value had heightened, they helped to keep up an atmosphere less gloomy.

Exceptional souls have found relief in having less; some families have been welded now that less entertaining and party-going takes place, but many and many a home has been broken in spirit with the passing of material things.

Here, for example, is a University professor who in boom times bought a $15,000 house, paying his lifetime savings of $6,500 and carrying the rest on mortgage. His salary has been twice cut. His property is not now worth the face of the mortgage. He questions the equity of such a system; is discouraged, views Bolshevism with sympathy and has lost his nerve generally.

Mrs. X of our acquaintance, whose brilliant son passed the bar examinations three years ago and has had no employment since—Mrs. X after her husband’s two-year invalidism and death with attendant hospital bills, finds her savings gone, her husband’s insurance money exhausted, a mortgage immanent, and taxes overdue. Where shall she turn at sixty? Her faith is shattered.

We are poor stuff, you say? Likely that applies to many, but not to all, and not to most. Something has happened inside, we are frightened of the future—our heart is gone. Nothing seems to rouse us; the nerve is cut.

--Reverend Jesse Halsey, circa1936

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