Oral historian Studs Terkel died a year and a half ago, at 96; in his last published interview, published in AARP Magazine, and in it he recalled the Great Depression, and offered some guidance to us, in the great recession:
My mother ran a hotel, the Wells-Grand Hotel, for men, just outside Chicago’s skid row. Skilled workers. Mechanics. Guys with jobs here and there. Some retired. It was fine. The lobby in the hotel was empty in the daytime. It was just a little room, and at night they’d come play hearts and pinochle. Then came 1929. Suddenly they’re not working. Or those guys who retired, suddenly their pensions are gone. Now they’re in the lobby in the daytime. They don’t know what the hell to do. So they drank more. And played the horses more. And there were fights. What were the fights over? Their own self-respect. I mean, they had nothing to do. They were furious. Who do you blame? Who do you hit? You hit each other. That was sort of a metaphor for what happened to the country. They blamed themselves. Yet I met these people who weathered it one way or the other, some just by lending a hand.
The lessons of the Great Depression? Don’t blame yourself. Turn to others. Take part in the community. The big boys are not that bright.
Hope dies last—“La esperanza muere última.” Without hope, you can’t make it. And so long as we have that hope, we’ll be okay. Once you become active helping others, you feel alive. You don’t feel, “It’s my fault.” You become a different person. And others are changed, too.