Day 14 – How Pity Can Give You Strength

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

September 11, 2014

Pity this dog.

Pity this dog.

I started the day with a scary, unexpected feeling: I felt okay. This was deeply unsettling to me as, from a purely realistic point of view, things are decidedly not okay and to pretend otherwise verges on apathy. Apathy will not get me a job. Apathy will not stop the money from running out. I’ve never run out of money before. I’ve been low on cash, but I’ve never not been able to afford a meal. I should be concerned about that.

It’s not that I’m not concerned, it’s just that the urgency, for whatever reason, subsided this morning. This is different from peace. Feeling peaceful about the dire circumstances of your situation does not discourage action like apathy does. I interpreted this momentary lack of urgency to mean one thing: I’m settling into unemployment life. It’s so easy to occupy myself with other things–looking over a press release for a friend, dropping the kids off at school, writing in this blog, etc.–and come away feeling like I’m accomplishing something with my day even though I’m making no money. I’m industrious and a self-starter and it feels good to do things. But am I too occupied?

The day took a sharp left turn when I set aside my navel-gazing and actually bothered to remember I have a wife, who has been sick the past couple days and slept through most of the morning. Erin has been a rock since all of this started, but today, her body betraying her, she got hit with a wave of frustration at our situation and felt the enormity of it in a way she hadn’t before. She couldn’t hold back the tears and nothing I said comforted her. On the contrary, we argued. About what, I couldn’t tell you. Doesn’t matter. I erred in engaging with her in that way. Her life has been sent into an upheaval just as much as mine and today was her day to feel all of that.

At least we’re taking turns now. It’s much worse when we’re freaking out at the same time.

* * *

Violet and Erin talked over their plans for tomorrow during dinner. Erin volunteers as a speaker and special needs community advocate via EPU (Exceptional Parents Unlimited), a local, incredible institution that helps families navigate the early years of having a child with special needs. Violet’s older sister Cami has since outgrown the place, but Erin still goes to meetings every Friday and brings Violet with her. Violet loves the classes and play areas. Since my new life is being home and available, I had a suggestion for Violet:

Me: Violet, should I go with you and Mommy to EPU tomorrow?

Violet: Noooooo, you don’t go to EPU! Just me and Mommy. You have to go to work!

She’s three. We’re not hiding anything, but she has no idea. It kind of broke my heart.

* * *

Erin and I made a quick run to the store for bread tonight. I searched and searched the shelves for a sale in vain. As often happens, we ran into a member of our church on the way to the register. She was aware of our situation and sympathetic and perfectly lovely. But she also gave us those eyes–slightly moist around the edges with eyebrows pointed up towards the middle. I had to reassure her we were going to be okay. I had to. It’s a compulsory thing to do when someone is throwing that much pity your way.

I was advised when this all started that I don’t have to make anyone feel better about our situation. I thought that was pretty sound advice, but I don’t find myself taking it, ever. Instead, I say things like “I know we’re going to make it out of this okay” and “God is teaching us a lesson right now. Our job is just to get through it so we can understand it later” and “We’ve helped others in the past, this is just our turn. That’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to work.”

I think a decade ago I might have been resentful of a song and dance like that, but what I’m finding is that it’s not a song and dance to me at all. I meant the things I said and I do feel like we’re going to be okay. I have to guard against both apathy and working too hard, but I genuinely feel like relief and maybe even a little prosperity is right in front of us. We’ll find our way there.

The people with pity in their eyes do me a great favor: they force me to say all the positive things I know to be true all over again. I can’t have too much of that. That’s useful. It strengthens me to say such things and acknowledge to someone else that they’re true, as though the telling of such reassurances emboldens them and pushes them more towards reality.


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