Welcome to Summer Vacation – where Monday, Tuesday, Friday, eh, whatever! is the new normal! (In other words…it's not Monday. I know it isn't Monday. But soon, well, I may not know what day it is because summer vacation around here is kind of like falling down a rabbit hole. Yesterday vanished into today so fast that just before it happened I was all, "Wha? How can it be 11:00? Why is that boy still running up and down the hall playing with trucks, if it's an hour until midnight? Did the kids eat dinner? Or, uh, lunch?!")
ANYWAY. I have kind of a peculiar sermon today. It comes out of a rather otherworldly encounter I had last week during the last day of school festivities. Our school is one of those 'heavy parental involvement' schools, where a ton of us will show up for an envelope opening – cameras blazing. So it was no surprise that a group of the regular offenders were having a kind of impromptu farewell party at the school, as we watched our children run and scream and be silly on this, the most glorious day of the Whole! School! Year!
Now, there is a couple in this group that I've gotten to know a little better this year – especially the father. Before last year, we never saw the dude because he was the typical working father. He came to games, events and shows occasionally and almost always only the evening affairs.
He was let go from his job between Christmas and New Years, 2007 – seventeen months ago now, and definitely counting. The situation has gone from bummer, dude to holy crap, dude! in fairly short order. At first, things went about the way they always go under the circumstances. He received a three month severance package and began looking for work. Didn't find anything he was willing to take. He didn't just want to replace his former income, he wanted more. Turned down the first few offers because they were "insultingly low bids" and then was surprised to find the first few were also the last few.
Welcome to the recession in San Joaquin, where the job market is so tight that over a thousand people lined up to interview for ten part-time waitstaff jobs at a new Olive Garden…
More time passed. Contacts began to distance themselves, stopped returning phone calls, started being too busy to have lunch. Even recruiting firms wouldn't call him back. Health insurance and unemployment benefits dried up. Retirement accounts were liquidated. Tax bills were received, totaling nearly half what they had taken out of tax-sheltered accounts. Ouch.
And then, because insult loves injury, within a week of their insurance lapsing, their daughter fell off the damned slide and broke her arm (again, by the way – she broke the same arm two years ago, on the same playground!). Couldn't do it just one week before, when they had coverage ooooooooh no. Without insurance, the cost for a trip to the ER, x-rays and a cast ran to nearly $20,000.
…and because they'd cashed out the retirement funds, their tax return showed solidly six figure income. Sorry, no hardship adjustment for YOU…
See what I mean? Holy crap, dude!!
So that's the background. Then, last week, he stood there and went on a rant that honestly…I didn't know whether to hug him, or smack the living daylights out of him.
It went something like this: He is not going to let this recession-thing ruin his family's lives. He is not going to allow even the slightest change to their lifestyle. They will have their two-three vacations this year, they will get new clothes, they will do all the extra-curricular activities they want, the children will get video games and ice cream and furthermore, they will continue hitting up Applebee's every Friday night and god!damn!it!, they will have everything they need to be happy because he is not going to fail his family…!!!!!
We all kind of stood there and took this in. His wife had the kind of pained, plastic smile that clearly said, Humor him, for my sake, please…just…humor him…with a hint of…ohmygah, Momclub, CALL ME LATER! I NEED HUGS!!...
So we dutifully made sympathetic noises and changed the subject as fast as we could.
Which brings me, at long last, to my sermon today, which is around CHANGE
Most human beings resist change. We like things to stay in pattern. We like to have golden, holy Truths we can rely upon in good times and bad. We like to have rules, and we like exceptions to those rules to stay in their neatly defined boxes.
Here are some of the rules that this economy, giggling maniacally, is tearing to shreds:
- Housing prices never go down, only up.
- Salaries never go down, only up.
- The more experience I have, the more I'll be paid.
- If I have a college degree, I will earn back what I paid for the education within three years (which makes it totally OK to graduate with any amount of student loan debt, for any degree)
- I will never earn less, only more.
- I will never have a problem getting health insurance, because I will never have a problem getting a job that provides them.
- I will have more stuff, vacations and money than my parents had. My children will have even more than that.
- Goods and services will all cost less and deliver more.
In some ways, resisting change isn't necessarily a bad thing. Resisting change is how we rebuild, for example. If we didn't resist change, we'd just walk away from charred buildings and flooded basements – but we don't. We grab shovels, hammers and saws and rebuild, resisting the change Fate just put on us. We try to build it smarter and better, so that next time it doesn't burn so fast, or hot, or flood so thoroughly.
But there also comes a point where you've got to cut and run. You've got to realize that change is here, cold, uncaring, inexorable change, and you are either going to adapt to the new conditions and survive, or you're going to die resisting it…and then you're going to miss out on What's Next, which might not be as bad as it seems while you're going through the searing pain of change.
When I listen to people raving on and on about how they can't find a job "at an acceptable pay rate," or how they "refuse to give up" their luxuries, I really feel as though I'm watching people stubbornly sitting on their couch as the house burns down around them. "It is not acceptable to me that this house is burning down. I will not let the fact that there is a fire cost me this house."
Uh…dude? Fire really doesn't care whether you find it "acceptable." It's there, it's burning, and it's going to take you with it if you don't get off your arse and get the hell out of there.
Come back and rebuild, don't burn to death refusing to acknowledge that it's happening.
This week, I want to take some time to think about where I might be resisting what is for no good reason. Am I buying stuff I think is a "need," when actually it's just sort of vaguely connected to my actual need? For example, I need to feel important and stable, so…I'm buying a new iPod? How does that actually make me important and/or stable?!
Am I holding on too tightly to the way things were, ignoring the new opportunities because they don't look as good as the old ones? Am I so busy refusing to accept the unpleasant parts that I'm missing bright new beautiful things Life is trying to offer me?
There is always opportunity out there. While we still breathe, there is always a way to grow through adversity and come out stronger and better than we were before. And frankly, I've always found that the worse I think a situation is, the more I think there just ain't nothin' good about it…the more I look back later and think, Wow…I'm so glad that happened…I learned so much, gained so much, because that happened…
I woke up on this side of the dirt this morning. That means things can still work out not merely OK, but awesome for me. Things are different, and some of those differences are not a whole lot of fun (having my hourly pay rate slashed back to 1994 levels definitely doesn't make me all tingly-happy inside)…but if I don't wrench my eyeballs off the regrets, I'm going to miss the hallelujahs.
And that would suck.
So! Chin up, eyes high, expect great things and don't be surprised when they come your way. They are there, waiting for us to realize what they are and grab them. New joys and triumphs await…let's get out there and make them our own!