Working Together

"We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again..."

Excerpt from "Working Together" © David Whyte
in The House of Belonging

Many Rivers Press

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Expectations? No...and Thank You.

A middle-aged re-invented American worker
My word of the year expectation is coming to its annual close.  I wrote about it in January, March, June and September.   This is my last installment on the word.

It was tumultuous year.  I reeled from loosing my income and the foundation of my dream of working and living in this beautiful place, Bellingham, WA.  I steeled myself from my fears while I softened to allow for new experiences; suffered the indignity of being handled like refuse by government agencies and tried to be as true to my nature as I could.  I've been seriously tested with this word at every turn.

I was much more graceful and generous at the beginning of my journey than I am a year into it.  I didn't want it to happen that way, of course, but to say otherwise would be dishonest. My threshold is high but it isn't high enough to make this a fairy tale. I wouldn't wish this kind of unexpected transition on anyone.  Suddenly not being able to have expectations - that is, living in the world as it is today while not having a secure pot to piss in - is a damn harsh reality.  Not 'going' is not an option and you're gonna get some on yourself when you do 'gotta go'. All tasks take longer, are riskier, more complicated and are exceedingly expensive. It is absolutely impossible to see it when you are moored to a lifestyle that is secured to the center of commerce in America.  It is like trying to describe water to a fish.  I don't mean to be an alarmist and fan fears for the ensconced but those who are aware of what it is like to be set adrift in life know of what I speak and that is that.

I had expected as I started out with this word that I would take this experience of loosing my employment as an opportunity to somehow apprentice myself to other types of work. Library and educational support is not a sustainable occupation in this economic climate for a 58 year old woman.  This is what I told myself and I found out in time that I really bought into the idea that I wasn't good at what I did as a bi-product of being laid off.  Which, of course, is not accurate but I didn't feel I had the luxury at the time of crying over spilled milk so I rolled over on that truth. It has come back to haunt me even though I know I'm pulled into quite a different direction. I dearly miss the library environment, the work, the students and my co-workers. The question became: Does one re-invent oneself into the fold or strike out alone at a juncture such as this?

All the truth of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew.  
Great Expectations Chapter 39.

I do know now that I was not targeted for layoff but I was eyed for being easily manipulated.  I opted out.  So in reality, I actually quit with benefits and so chose not to be treated that way by my employer.  I can happily say it is no longer my problem to be associated with such institutional duplicity. I have my hands full with my own hypocrisy as I realize too now that there was a familiar attraction at work in my association with my employer. I made my choice, I out-grew and left-off that mind set, I stood up for myself and I'm happy about that. It would have served me better (and perhaps the overall situation) had I found the strength to be more contentious about the whole affair but I'm a survivor not a warrior and in these days in America to not be a gladiator with a glad hand and a spear to chuck is to be viewed as a whining parasite with a hand out.  I did not have the strength for either pretense. Anymore there is an awful pressure to figure out a great deal quickly while under the duress of one's village burning to the ground.  It has been so very hard to assess how deeply these changes affected the life I had anticipated for myself here in Bellingham. My primary concern at the time was my need to secure myself again to save my shelter and my independence.  Passing on liquidating all my investments and moving on, I chose the fold in hopes this would lead to a new and better standing in this community and this is how that played out...

Finding the well-intended unemployment office overworked, self-absorbed and shackled by mountains of paperwork and government statistics to maintain,  I worked with my Community College where I found people who were very supportive in helping me brainstorm possibilities.  I had an uplifting break-through in the spring.  This was thanks to the encouragement of their staff and their programs. Hopefully I could develop a plan to do work in my community that had value.  Perhaps I could find work I would find myself somewhat good at since I believed privately that I was not good at what I did before. I was enthused at the prospect of working with professionals in my community as an End-of-Life Navigator. I discovered that I had an interest in helping people secure their end of life plans with their families.  I want to help the loved ones of the elderly and the terminally ill living in this community.  Armed with the information necessary, I want to educate the public and advocate and discuss with people what it really means to have a good death at the end of a good life...and how to do it.  To do this, however, meant that I had to find a type of related work and earn enough money to keep a roof over my head.

There is irony.  In my journey through my year, it became apparent that I would have eventually understood what I might give to the community I live in.  One never knows for sure, of course, but I know myself and I would have figured this one out as it had been a seed germinating in my mind for years prior.  The irony is that I could be doing it for free as a volunteer in my community. This is the kind of work elders have been doing in their neighborhoods and communities for years when they could afford it.  As we age and experience the loss of loved ones, for many elders it is a natural meditation and deeply fulfilling work to comfort and care for the dying and the bereaved.

Now, because I have to scramble to make ends meet, I am disadvantaged in being of much help to others in regards to education and the important conversations I yearned to involve myself in.  The opportunity has gotten pushed back even farther due to the insane scramble to make enough money to survive.  My reinvented self is, in truth, a hodgepodge of trying to juggle my independence, doing work that allows me some sense of personal fulfillment and orientation towards my goal, and my financial need.  That translates currently to working fifty plus hours a week for what amounts to minimum wage and volunteering for four. No vacations; no sick days; no holidays, no dandling grandchildren on my knee or family visits in this equation...just: work or no dough and volunteering.  Turns out it takes a lot of minimum wage hours to cover a mortgage.

In all honesty it is unclear if this work will translate into a better use of my skills.  I have faith that it will. I still wonder at times if I should have just "made arrangements" and left town.  I'm a caregiver now and in assisting others, my role and any sense of accomplishment come from a decidedly different angle than I'm used to receiving. It is such subjective work; I cannot tell if I'm brave or an incompetent idiot...or both. I make some of the most obtuse blunders. I know only I'm sincere...and I'm confused as I'm not sure how I fit in this new journey that I'm on. I take everyday as it comes and everyday is absolutely different and a complete surprise.  The only thing that is not a surprise is the paycheck. It is widely known this is thankless work with the reward seeded in the giving.

So I chose the fold with faith in myself that I can find something in my community that I might be good at that will establish my connection here.  My choice is questionably sustainable with the stress of the schedule. I still experience sadness that the world will never look the same as it did when I came here 8 years ago and I was so happy with my skills and my prospects. I'm slow to accept this as I find myself negotiating little details as they rise.  I feel reality prying my fingers loose with each new unfortunate event. For instance my engine trouble light went on yesterday...and there is a forecast of a bitter cold winter...

In matters philosophical regarding expectations I have a greater appreciation of what it takes to live in the moment; while there is real suffering in the world, I now realize that it is suffering that we are all invested in by the choices we make.  Our expectations are investments that have weight in the world and are not as much a given as we might suppose.  It seems to me we have moved passed lip service on this matter. These are real troubled times that require developing and maintaining faith in oneself; relying on memory by remembering and trusting who we are by our experiences instead of an established dictum of behavior; and staving off unhealthy habits because the light in our grandchildren's eyes truly is a valuable beacon of hope.

It seems expectations are what we occupy our minds with so we don't have to have faith in the moment and feel the steely edge of indecision.  I suspect we are rewarded with distance and a pretense of control and camaraderie...and because this is a habit of most humans, the practice also protects us from having to feel alone.  Expectations breed planning and company and so it goes on and on in our lives.  We feed off of this perspective often sharing the meals and building popular culture and ritual around the whole premise.  Expecting is like borrowing on money that is not yet available to us, it is a form of living beyond our means.  We all know inside this is a poor practice and we all sigh, briefly negotiate the projected loss, decide it is worth it and pull out the card or the idea and likewise pull ourselves into the exchange even deeper.  Similarly we are all vested in each others expectations.  We are all constantly consumed in passing judgment and deciding if it is worth it.  The more interesting question to me is what are we giving up to hide here in this entitled perspective and its busy-ness?  I suspect underneath it all is a way of hiding from the world and our fears.  We give up being in the world and allowing ourselves the acute human need to be present, aware and engaged.  Why are we so terrified of that? I think it is because we are not oriented to our own capacity for bravery until we are forced into it.  I believe currently we have reached the tipping point where this can no longer be sustainable and people, like me, will continue to drop off the edges into the pool of faith based daily living.

I see the disenfranchised world around me pouring into the streets in protest of warped values and lost expectations and I see a symptom of an even deeper ailment.  The talk is about money but the subject is power and control. While I stand by that movement, I feel the guilt of a self-serving relief that things are not currently worse than they are.  What I once found valuable is receding from me at an alarming rate - owning my home, my idea of community, my sense of self worth and independence.  There is 1% of me that feels like the letting go of all my "things" is death itself even though intellectually I realize it may already be a done deal and it is just a matter of time.  Who knew I had such strength to hang on to what needs to go away? I hope my future will allow me the same gripping power to attach myself to what wants to replace these losses and that I have sense enough to recognize it.

Still, though this story is far from over, I feel thankful for what I've come to understand through my journey - if for nothing else than knowing that I stood up and empowered myself saying that first big, "No. Thank you". I am able to know the truth of what it is to be sent to the end of the line and what it takes get through the queue. On good days, when I can find the strength to remember I need to let go and let be, I can recall that today is the day and the only day.  I expect a miracle because one thing I do know now, when it comes to expectations and living day by day...being available for the miracles that happen everyday is really all there is. Within each of us there is a place where it truly is all right and everyday we have the choice to start from there or stop and go on...if we want.

Kudos to Nowhereman113 for the video.


Unknown said...

"...we are not oriented to our own capacity for bravery until we are forced into it."

Forced or otherwise, you are a brave woman, Cile.

Lyn said...

I hope this comes through--I can message you at FB if it doesn't work, as it often doesn't when I try to comment on blogs. Oh, Cile, I feel for you so much. My 57-year-old daughter is going thru' a similar Hell this year--loss of confidence and sense of self from being laid off from twenty years of high-paid and high-powered jobs, followed by dozens of hopeful, but dead-end interviews--so obviously age-driven. She, like you, is a beautiful, classy lady and always well dressed and coiffed, but not in mini-skirts and high heels, so she doesn't fit the image, suddenly. All that experience and expertise going to waste.

My 53-year-old daughter lost her home last year, but, fortunately (or unfortunately) she and her older husband were able to get into subsidized senior housing like I am--a lifesaver--and now are happy and safe on disability and S.S. My heart aches for them and you and all the other people whose American dream has become a nightmare. Sending hugs and encouragement and COURAGE and lending you my frequent mantra "It's only money, it's only money."
It's a loan because I hear I'll need it again in January when our state drug plan stops the coverage that has enabled me to get the $1600 a month drug nearly free for 10 years--the one that has literally saved my life. Yes, that one!