Drowning in a Sea of Gray: America’s Fading Middle Class


February 11, 2008

YESTERDAY, I spent a little time shopping. With our current economic downturn, we’ve been trying to stock up on non-perishables here at the PID Bunker, so I made a run to a spate of dollar-friendly stores. Cleaning products, paper goods, low cost medicine cabinet goodies from Dollar General; Dried beans, rice, yeast, and meats for the deep freeze from Wal-Mart and Aldi. And I paid a call on two local shops that have become a weekly pilgrimage for me in the wake of our move without furniture — Goodwill and Traderbaker’s (Flea Market).

I remember so well — way back when in Lincoln, Nebraska — when (as a student on food stamps and up to my neck in debt after a divorce) I haunted the local Goodwill and other used goods emporiums for clothes, shoes, and a matching pair of warm gloves to stave off the deep Nebraska chill. Back then, shopping for hand-me-downs had a sense of whimsy about it — and I reveled in the challenge of maintaining a sense of collegiate style while keeping to a budget of ‘Under $10’. With only myself to consider, economic woes merely brought me closer to fellow students, who lived on leftovers and coupons to Godfather’s $2.00 buffet. We sang, we laughed, we pinched pennies.

Honestly — I saw very little laughter yesterday. The glum, pinched expressions that passed me in the aisles bore little resemblance to cherry-cheeked music students longing for the grotto life. These were mothers and fathers praying for a break; one pale hand touching a child’s blue sweater, a Veggie Tales video, a pair of polka-dot socks; while the other hand kept track of one, two, sometimes three boistrous children (blissfully unaware of their parents’ financial worries). These salt-of-the-earth, middle-class Americans use crumpled dollar bills and smooth checks drawn on Pay-Day-Loan accounts to buy a week’s life in a country gone mad.

As I walked the crowded aisles of the stores, my heart grew heavier with every nod from fellow shoppers — they looked at me, and each understood that I understood. No matter what our president might say, our money is drying up — shriveling in the winds of trade imbalances and Wall Street put options, and we of the Middle Class must bear the price. Their eyes told me much — those eyes of lackluster shades, their fragile lids creased with mortgaged cares and foreclosed dreams — they told me they had wept too long and far too much. Wept — oh how they have wept! A sea of tears that soon trace a young face with painful seams deep enough to crack the soul.

But tears only deplete the body, and they offer no nourishment for hungry bellies. So, they shop — buying what they can — castoffs from better times — perhaps items they had once owned — before the auctioneer’s hammer fell.

I smiled at the child in the Hannah Montana wig — bought for a song on sale. Her eyes twinkled brightly, and I remembered how much the Lord loves children — how much He loves us all.

In that, I smiled anew — this time broader, and bolder, and my heart lightened. Long ago, I began praying for God to show me the world through His eyes — help me to see what He sees, to discern the truth of each situation. And so, my eyes saw the sorrows of humanity in the narrow aisles of small town America. But He also showed me joy — unabashed joy! For that resides in hope, and as believers we have a hope more powerful, more prevalent, more real than any arrow the enemy might aim at us. Jesus Christ died for me — and for you. And He is coming again. Hallelujah! And He promises to wipe away every tear.

My what a colorful world that will be! And it isn’t far away.

Do you know Christ as Savior? He died and rose again so that you might have eternal life. Read the gospel of John and decide for yourself. You have this moment — but how many tomorrows? He awaits — arms outstretched — at the end of the aisle. And this time, it’s free. The tab is on Christ. Such is grace.


  1. Thanks Sharon, Love you guys. My brother just sent a text message not 10 minutes ago and we agree that you and Derek are the best. We all gotta hang in there and pray for each other. Our prayers are always with you. Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you, Sharon, and God bless you and Derek–I have shopped at ‘hand-me-down’ cherity stores for a long time, so easily could identify with what you said–but, one of the biggest joys for me came when our local [female]postal clerk said to me–“You always dress so nice–where do you buy your clothes?!”–I told her, too!:)

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