These, it has been said, are uncertain times.

Imagine that you are on a train. As long as you are on this train, you will be fed money at an almost alarming rate. You will be reassured. You will have people tell you how wonderful you are.

And eventually, at an indeterminate time, this train will careen off the tracks and plunge into a deep ravine.

But the train doesn’t stop at any stations. Or at least isn’t planning any stops until the ravine-dive. So to disembark prior, you’re going to have to jump. Which is infinitely safer than plunging heels-over-head into a ravine, mind you. But perhaps adds that extra special little disincentive (along with the money and the reassurance and the praise) to leaving the train behind.

The obvious question of the day is:  When do you jump?

It should probably herein be noted that one can’t really jump when one sees a ravine on the horizon. Maybe the train is always skirting a ravine for its entire run. (Presumably one would jump in the opposite direction when deciding to flee the train.) And no one can imagine being coordinated enough to jump one way as the train is plunging ravine-ward. So let’s just leave that hedge out altogether.

We’re also going to caveat that you can take it with you… you’re being paid in a form that you won’t at any point weigh yourself down and make a leap less feasible. At least not physically.

So when do you jump?

There are those, including my childhood self, that would advise jumping ASAP. Immediately. Posthaste and without delay. As long as that train rolls on with a chance of taking you into the ravine with it, there is nothing worth letting that happen. Prevention of worst-case scenarios is a principle I’ve lived by a lot, and maybe it’s the obvious solution to this one.

And there are probably many of you still looking for a way to hedge this one. Surely you can get some clues or indications that the ravine is coming, right? I mean, the whole train can’t go into the ravine at once, right? Unless maybe there’s an earthquake. (Indeed yes, unless there’s an earthquake.) Surely you can hang out in the caboose and minimize your chances of a negative outcome?

I mean, maybe. But maybe I have to push this metaphor to the extreme and say there’s a thick mesh netting around the train that takes a decent amount of time to cut a jumping-sized hole out of. So one has to prepare to jump – it’ll take much longer than a few seconds. Yes, let’s go ahead and commit to that. This mesh also has the dual impact of making it very hard to see where the train is going at any given time. And adding yet another small disincentive to jumping at all.

But you have to jump. The ravine is not survivable. Or if it is, it’ll be so crippling that no amount of money/reassurance/praise will be worth the cost. If nothing else, you’ve learned that lesson before.

While I wrote this scenario primarily with one (maybe two) setting(s) in mind, I think it’s widely applicable. All over the country, people are making calculations that look a lot like trying to figure out when to jump from the train. Or perhaps they just should be… it’s more likely that most folks are actually trying to discern how long they can cling to the train, regardless of how many ravines it attempts to navigate. For many, jumping looks like the most dangerous option. As though a million phantom cacti appeared to them in every direction, everywhere but onboard the train and on the tracks themselves. Making jumping so viscerally painful that even worse consequences could be swallowed wholesale.

But the cacti are small and spread out, if indeed they exist at all. The train probably slows to a good 25 or 30 miles an hour sometimes, though it probably has to go at a constant speed for the analogy to work. Then again, one could always just hold out, hoping for a slower train. Hoping that maybe it would stop sometime and the jump would be palatable.

Don’t get your hopes up, kids.

Clock’s tickin’. Train’s a-whistlin’. Ravine’s a-waitin’.

It is still too early to be too late.