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A Western New York morning with 'Brexit': Everything is the same .... except it's not

You wake up and do everything in the same way you always do it. You load up the old percolator on the stove and you get the coffee going. You let the dog out, then feed the cat so the dog, while outside, can’t try to steal the food. You fire up the laptop and get working on a piece due very early.

Even as you’re working, you know this is a morning not quite like any morning you’ve seen before.

The British have startled the world by voting to leave the European Union. You’re no international expert. You aren’t quite sure what that will mean. The economic landscape has trembled, and you read articles where analysts are saying, don’t worry, this won’t mean another crash …. before they qualify their words and say:

At least we don’t think it will.

You’ve got three kids in their early 20s, just starting to face the world, and you and your wife – like so many of your friends - have your little retirement account, and you drink your coffee and you start writing and you realize:

You just don’t know.

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It is vague, a flutter at the base of your gut. What it feels like, the quality that in some distant way is most unsettling, is an utter lack of control.

Because that’s it, isn’t it? Your parents grew up as working people in Buffalo, and they did their best, early, to teach you one lesson: Do what you can to take control of your own life. Try your hardest not to depend on anyone you might not trust.

Change the oil. Learn to fix a flat a tire. Do your homework and stay out of the teacher's way. Pay your bills. Get to work on time and give them no excuse to fire you. Put your faith only in those who absolutely deserve it. Live within your means, even if that demands going without, because in that way your life always remains your own.

They understood the alternative, as did so many in Western New York, and across the nation. Your father, as a kid, was dropped off at an orphanage. Your mother’s parents were dead or gone by the time she was a toddler. They endured a Great Depression. They survived a world war. They knew hunger. They saw death. They outlived some of their children and were experts in managing sorrow.

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They knew about forces beyond your control, and the only way they had to react was to teach you this:

Do what you can to stay one up on the world.

But there are times when you brace yourself, and just hang on.

The British have voted to leave the European Union. Maybe, for most of us, it will be nothing more than that moment in a lightning storm when the sky itself seems to crack, when the house shudders …. before the storm rolls off, distant and far away, and you go back to your life. Maybe the markets will dig their collective feet into the ground and wait this moment out, and this decision will simply be an interesting if worrisome moment in history.

Maybe it won’t ripple out like a crack in the global plaster. Maybe the undercurrent we’re feeling this morning, the idea that control of our own destiny can be a great illusion, will be short-lived and our lives will remain just as they are.

Yet, still. You sit here amid all the ordinary sounds of the morning – the computer hums, the dog rolls over while his tags softly jangle, a neighbor backs up his car and leaves for work – and you appreciate the gift of life as it is and as it's been: Your kids asleep upstairs, the green maples in the summer, the belief that your existence is a steady destination.

But that belief, when it comes down to it, is not built on marble. It is built on faith and hope, on the idea that your routine – if lived with decency, efficiency and respect - will always remain, in some fashion, as it is. Your parents understood a different reality, how forces and events far beyond your control can step in and suddenly disrupt entire nations. You’ve only seen it a few times in your own lifetime, for good or for evil, the mornings when you understand:

Today, the world will change.

Maybe what happened Thursday will not be among them. Maybe “Brexit” will be a jolt of transformation and emotion in Europe, and life around the planet will go on as it was. Maybe the world will shrug its shoulders, catch its breath, and the landscape will not change.

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So you pour your coffee. The refrigerator hums. It is a morning like every other morning.

Or so you hope.

Sean Kirst is a contributing writer with The Buffalo News. Leave a comment below, follow him on Twitter or email him at

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