Sad Day Knocks Us Down – But We’re Not Out

Once upon a time, General Motors stood strong and mighty, the world at its feet.

Today, the world prevails, and GM is on its knees.

Bankrupt. Can’t pay its bills. The filing Monday was just a formalization of what we already knew, the way a coffin formalizes a funeral. But something we once believed in, looked up to, even nestled inside of, is gone today and will never be the same.

All fall down. No enterprise survives forever. Not the pyramid builders, not the horse-and-buggy makers, one day maybe soon, not the printing presses that enable you to read this in a newspaper.

All fall down. It’s just that, here in Michigan, when an auto company falls, we fall with it. Here, in every household supported by the auto industry and in every supplier and every dealership and every tire store and every lunch wagon supported by the auto industry, we feel it.

We are dominoes in the shadow of a tumbling giant.

All fall down.

But falling is not dying.

And we are not dead yet.

The best that we can be

“Our identity is bound in the auto industry,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm told me Monday on WJR. “We are, as Dr. King would have said, ‘Inextricably woven in a mutual garment of destiny.’

“Practically every single person in Michigan has somebody in their family who has worked in the auto industry. This is more than just the bankruptcy of a major company, it is an identity issue as well.”

Yes. But only part of our identity. If we were fathers on Sunday, we are fathers today. Churchgoers on Sunday are churchgoers today. Good people remain good people today, and resilient people remain resilient people – today and tomorrow. We cannot be defined by the plant in which we work.

Maybe for a while we got too comfortable with that. Maybe some of us labeled ourselves too easily, and felt the jobs would always be there and our old age would be secure. If this teaches us anything, it teaches us that any enterprise made by man can fall apart.

But it also can be put back together. Despite dire predictions, despite critics crying socialism, despite the worst economy of our lifetimes, this is still a reorganization plan – not a death. Not a funeral. If GM emerges from this, it still will be a big player – one of several, but still a big player. Still with plants and offices and its identity in Michigan.

We should hope for it. But not bank on it.

Rising from the ashes

Once, every second car buyer in this country bought a GM. Once singers sang of seeing the USA in a Chevrolet, and Corvettes and Cadillacs were the stuff of heroes and motion pictures. But once, you weren’t a man if you didn’t ride a horse.

What has happened to us is simple: The world has sped up. What used to take generations now happens in a year. The globe that GM once ruled now sets the tone for business, every foreigner is a potential employee, every country a potential market, every government a possible player or impediment.

And it has happened so fast that things we once relied on are suddenly gone, like a bird that takes a quick flight and comes back to no nest.

But we have another nest. We have each other. This is a great state with great people. And years before GM ever opened shop, people lived and worked and supported each other here. We could do it again. We could do it with a smaller, leaner GM.

There is nothing fun here, nothing good about bankruptcy. But nothing shocking, either. History is full of this lesson. All fall down. What defines you is not how you fall, but how you get up.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. Read recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.

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