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Hitting the Wall on ‘The Street’

Meditations (Spirituality) With Martin LeFevre in California

Hitting the Wall on ‘The Street’

As I try, like everyone else, to gain some understanding of the US financial meltdown, my thoughts turn to my nephew Brett. He’s about to leave college after interning on Wall Street, having well positioned himself to begin a career on ‘The Street.’

Growing up, Brett was always the smartest, funniest, best athlete, and most popular kid in his class, a natural leader from elementary through high school. In high school he was a star quarterback of the football team, and that, more than his easy A’s, set his course in college. He went to a big university in the Southwest, but was too wiry and from too small a high school to get a full scholarship. Confident in his abilities however, he was sure that he would be first or second string by his senior year.

When he saw that that wasn’t in the cards, he transferred in his junior year to a smaller college near New York City. He continued to play football until nerve damage in his neck area (a common chronic injury in American football) ended his athletic career recently. Then he set his sights on Wall Street, getting in on the ground floor just as the bottom was falling out.

He was a bright little guy of two and a half when I got to know him on a visit to Michigan. He had just acquired basic language, and I spent a good amount of time with him. We hit it off famously.

The occasion was my youngest sister’s big Catholic wedding, and an incident that occurred during one of its rituals still stands out in my mind. All the relatives and friends were in the large living and dining rooms of the family home as my youngest sister and her new husband opened their many gifts. I was sitting to the side watching the proceedings, mildly amused without feeling separate or superior.

My little nephew came up to me and said: “What are you?” Thinking he had confused his pronouns, I said, “You know who I am Brett, I’m your uncle.” He shook his head and left. He came back a few minutes later and asked again, with greater intensity, “what are YOU?” “I don’t understand what you’re asking me Brett,” I said. He walked away in frustration. A few minutes later when he charged me from across the room full of people, I knew I was in trouble. Reaching me, he shouted at the top of his little lungs: “WHAT ARE YOUUU?!”

There was no escape; I had to see what this little fellow was asking. Despite all eyes in the room being on us, I looked into his face and held his gaze until the insight hit. He was indeed asking ‘what,’ because this person, his uncle, was not in the same category of ‘people’ that everyone else in the room was. He was trying to convey: ‘these are people, but you don’t belong in the same category. So what are you?’

The moment I saw this I also saw what the right response was. I looked deep into his eyes and said, “I’m a human being Brett, a human being.” He threw his head back and laughed with joy, repeating, “Being, being.”

I had hopes that Brett would break out of the family pattern of conservatism and conformity, as I had done when I quit the Catholic Church at 17 and left the insular peninsular of Michigan for California at 19. From the youngest age, Brett was obviously the best and brightest, but so far, conditioning and socialization have proven too strong for him.

Very few can go against the current in such a conformist country as America (whether the current is the tattoo culture, women in black, or running with the bulls). To simply be what one is and contribute what one has to contribute to humanity is, unfortunately, the most difficult thing. Now I worry about Brett’s future, and the future of all young people in this collapsing country and world.

As the Bush Administration rushes in with its incomprehensible trillion-dollar bailout to save a financial system that isn’t worth saving even if it could be saved, one wonders whether it’s too late for Brett, and his generation, to change course.

It’s been too late for America since we ‘won’ the Cold War. But it isn’t too late for humanity; the crisis simply requires human beings, thinking and acting together.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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