Day 24 – We All Need to Be Needed

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.

Sunday – September 21, 2014

This dog gets it.

This dog gets it.

Sunday is church day and on a busy church day that means meetings. I serve as the secretary of our ward’s Elders’ Quorum (read: men’s group) which means, working with the Assistant Secretary (yes, I have an assistant–I’m big time), I keep track of everything going on and get all the computer work done. Basically, I take notes and push buttons.

An hour before church started, I met with the rest of the Quorum leadership. We went over things that need doing and people who need attention. Every time I sit down with these guys I have the same thought: I’m the only one without a job. I don’t mean to go there, but I can’t be the only one who plays One-of-These-Things-is-Not-Like-the-Others every time they’re in a group of people. Right? None of the guys did anything to suggest they look down on me, but still my mind went there. I do my best to not associate my unemployment with shame, but that feeling of difference leads to the feeling that I’ve done something wrong and that leads to feeling bad. It shouldn’t be there, logically, but it is always there at the edges of my mind. Thankfully, these moments are fleeting.

After the meeting, I did the pushing buttons thing. Any time I get to serve in this way I get reminded of what it feels like to have a job, lo, those three weeks ago. The entire morning–on the Day of Rest–felt like having a job. It wasn’t so long ago I was calling for meetings and giving instructions to my team and handing out assignments. That was all a big part of what I did. The other part was at the computer executing my own assignments. It just felt felt good to do a little of that again, even if it was all terribly non-creative.

On the heels of that I got an email today from a former colleague who was also laid off this year. He’d heard I’d just been let go and wrote an incredibly gracious note that spoke fondly of our time together and expressed his utter faith that I will find something suitable for and worthy of my talents. Even offered to be a reference for me. He reminded me of my value, which can be so easy to forget.

I’ve always thought of a job as just a job, the thing I do to put food on the table and take care of what really matters to me–my family. But in the last few years the job really became something more as I stepped up to assume the role of Art Director. The job became much more than a job. It was a source of real accomplishment and friendships and fulfillment. I was excited about what I was doing and felt like I was making a difference, not only for my co-workers and the people who had entrusted me to lead, but also for kids and teachers and everyone in education whose lives we were trying to make easier.

Now, I get that feeling of being valued when I’m at church, which is no small place to feel such a thing. I’m immensely grateful for church and my church family. Not only is everyone there a constant source of strength for us, but they need me there (or they’re at least great at making me feel that way). They look at me as someone who has something to offer and that’s something everyone needs. We need to be needed. To be not needed is to be lost. To have nowhere to go and nowhere to be is a nightmare.

This is what can sometimes make being in need such a difficult thing. I know we’re in a spot right now where we have to accept help, but I don’t want to just spend my days receiving. I want to give as well. If I can’t do that in a job, then, for now, I suppose it’s enough that I can at least do that in other ways.


Day 5 – It’s Not Nice to Snap at Your Wife When You’ve Both Been Fired

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 2, 2014

This is Erin's angry face. I'm... not entirely sure why she took this picture, but I think my duty bound to share it with the world.

This is Erin’s angry face. I’m… not entirely sure why she took this picture, but I think my duty bound to share it with the world.

I woke up with lots of anger today. I’ve maintained a mostly even keel through all this unemployment business, but days like today it all just gets under my skin and just the… crushing unfairness of it all weighs me down. Which is stupid. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from so many who have reached out in the past several days it is that just about everyone has gone through a bout of unemployment. Some for an incredibly, heartbreakingly long time. Those people, every time I talk to them, I think “Please, not me. Not us. Let it end soon.”

I think of “me” first. Then my family. I don’t like thinking that way. We’re all in this together and even though my two youngest may not be able to even process or understand what’s going on (and why should they? All they know is Daddy is available to play “Hotel” 24/7 and turn on Frozen more), they’re affected nonetheless. I also need to remember I’m not the only one who lost a job. Erin makes it easy to forget. She has such utter confidence we’re going to be okay and though she has her moments, she handles the whole situation with much more grace than I currently am capable of.

Case in point: I snapped at Erin this morning.

I tried to do the morning drop-offs at schools. With Violet, I got completely lost. She’s attending preschool in a home in a neighborhood with the most convoluted street layout devised by man. I half expect to run into a minotaur every time I venture in there. That wasn’t the real problem though. The real problem was that I completely forgot where this labyrinth actually was. I spent 20 minutes driving in a circle. Violet was late, so Erin asked what took me so long when I finally returned home. This is when I snapped.

Erin didn’t retaliate. She knew as well as I did my morning’s “ordeal” wasn’t the real issue.

For the rest of the day, we tried to keep as busy as possible by playing games both video and tabletop with my brother and his wife before they return to their home in the Portland area. The constant diversion served its purpose well, so we did it again with friends this evening. Other friends brought by another gift basket, complete with an offer to babysit and movie tickets. This is our life right now: surrounded by generosity and friends who genuinely care for us to a degree we perhaps don’t deserve. I can’t comprehend with anything other than aching gratitude.

At the same time, I know these kindnesses are somewhat temporary. I’m reminded of my father’s death and funeral and how much attention was paid to my family at that time and how it all went away eventually. People will have to move on as our new state of unemployment becomes old and normal. This is how it should be, I think, but I doubt we’ll be any more okay with it all than we are now.

* * *

I’ve dropped a lot of weight since this all started. About three pounds since Friday. I was actually dieting before I was let go, but I haven’t seen this side of 180 in about a year. It’s hard not to think of it as a good thing even when I know I’m probably terribly unhealthy right now. Even as I sit here typing with my stomach screaming hunger pangs at me, I find I have no appetite.

Tomorrow I go back to work to say goodbye. Not everyone knows I’m leaving. Maybe I’ll eat after that.

Giving Not-So-Freely

There’s a gas station on my way home from work where, 90% of the time I go there, someone asks me for money. Yesterday, it happened again. This time, I was the only one at the pumps The old black man in a wheelchair and army jacket was far away, up against the outer wall of the mini-mart. I’d never seen him before–it’s never same person twice, but it’s alwayssomebody. 

I cursed myself for not making eye contact for fear he would ask me for that which I’d worked hard for (well, worked for anyway). Assuming someone is a beggar is a pretty rotten assumption to make. It wasn’t until I put the pump back on the handle and turned his way that I realized what I thought was the grunting of a crazy homeless man was, in fact, him asking me for “spare change.” I told him I didn’t have any, which was a lie.

Let me back up. My policy is to give when people ask for it, if I have it. The guy near the McDonald’s two weeks ago got two bucks off me. I emptied my pockets for the woman at the grocery store a month back. I was glad I had more quarters than I thought I did. It’s the right thing to do and it sets a good example for my daughters. It’s not my place to judge anyone’s situation. If someone asks me for help, I give them the benefit of the doubt and give what I can. No, I’m not rich. Times are pretty tight right now and it’s been an unusually bad year, financially speaking. But I do what I can.

Sometimes, I like to do a little more than just give money. If you have a sickly look and stumble towards me before asking, I’ll usually put a caveat on my gift. If you tell me you won’t use it for booze, then you get the money. I’ll take your word. Most everyone makes the promise, but not all. Once, this one guy said, to his credit, “Nah, man. That’s alright.” And he walked away.

But it seems my generosity does have its limits. There’s something about not being able to go to certain places without the bother of someone asking me for what’s in my wallet. When I can count on it happening, it feels intrusive. I get irritated. I get impatient and I won’t make eye contact with people when I pump gas at that one station. When the man in the wheelchair asked me for money yesterday, I was bothered enough by it that I completely forgot I had change in my pocket. I didn’t have any bills in my wallet, but I could have given him my change if I’d been less focused on getting home quickly and how bothersome it was to not be able to pump gas in peace . Sure, I didn’t have much. Maybe 25 cents in pennies and nickels. But it was better than nothing. Which is what I told him I had.

Then, I got back in my car, cued my shiny new iPod back up, and drove away. I felt pretty darn wealthy in that moment and I didn’t like the feeling. At all. Next time, I hope I do better.

What about you? What do you do when someone asks you for monetary help?