Friday, January 03, 2014

Here's the plan...

It's pretty hard to think deep thoughts when your office is in the family room.  Not that I'm complaining about having family, especially having family all together in one place.  The fireplace warms us, the cats lounge, the husband and children joke with one another as they play their respective computer games.  Outside, it's less than zero and a layer of snow brightens the winter.  The Christmas decorations are still up, and I've plugged in the tree.  Not everyone is so lucky, particularly the homeless.  I think about the homeless especially on days like these, when the shelters are full and there are those still living in tents and boxes somewhere in the woods of Prince William County, not in a cozy townhouse.

Several years ago, I volunteered at a food pantry in the eastern end of the county.  I think everyone should make a similar effort at least once in a lifetime.  It can be transformational.  We are so quick to judge until we put faces on the needy, people who might have been or might someday be ourselves.  Whole families come in--working families, families with unemployed heads of households, families living in despair.  The elderly and disabled come in, those unable to make ends meet on a limited income.  The mentally ill come in.  Veterans come in. 

I saw in them the me I once was, in my twenties, trying to get through school, work and still have some place to live.  I saw my later self, pregnant, unemployed with no job options and no place to go.  I remembered myself on WIC and food stamps.  I remembered going to the church, being given breads and canned goods and feeling bad because I was a young adult and highly ashamed of my situation, while there were old people and little kids in line behind me.  The lady who brought me to the pantry encouraged me to take more than I could eat in a week because I could freeze some, but how could I?  No, I said, I would come back.  But I didn't.  I ate Ramen soup.  Not exactly the diet of champions.  At least when I was on WIC, I could get milk and peanut butter.

I admit, I fear poverty.  Financially, our family is doing okay.  But like many people, one emergency could jeopardize everything we have.  Yesterday, our dog had to go in for surgery.  That was our emergency.  People might argue that we should put her down, that she is just a dog, that we are wasting the resources we do have.  But how could we put down an otherwise healthy, seven-year-old family member for whom we have a responsibility?  We are not the kind of people who see animals as disposable.  We don't just give up on them when we were the ones who took them in.  It would be different if she had cancer or some incurable disease, but she does not.  And so for awhile I stressed, not knowing what to do. 

For years, I've worked contract for the sake of my family's needs, but contract work is hit or miss.  Right now, I don't make enough to cover the expenses we've incurred.  So, I am searching for more full-time hours that will allow me to keep my part-time job, too.  It's a plan that makes me feel better about our situation.  In fact, I'm empowered by this decision, having not worked in a traditional setting for many years.  I think the mind-stretch will do me good, so long as I can manage my other responsibilities.  And of course, knowing we've got additional income will alleviate some stress, even if I am not doing the kind of work I prefer.

Here's the difference between where I once was and where I am now:  I have my degrees.  I have options.  I know myself better and understand the kinds of environments and supports I need to help me be successful.  I probably will not get employment in my industry of choice (writing), but I will get something, and it will pay more than minimum wage.  The job won't have benefits, and if I need time off, it will be unpaid.  For some people, this kind of job would seem an affront, but to me, it's an opportunity.  My good attitude accounts for something.  Getting such a job in a time when garnering employment can be difficult is a blessing.  That I am overqualified means little, especially when I know once I get out there, other positions might open for me.  I do, after all, have many viable skills.

Besides helping to support my family and stretching my mind in other directions, another position will get me on a schedule, something I've desperately needed for a long time.  Working at home on various projects has been a boon in some ways, but in other ways, it has led me to develop irregular sleeping and eating patterns and occasionally allows me to ruminate more than I want to.  Anxiety takes over, rendering me less effective.  This is all counter-productive.  Working in a traditional setting will take some getting used to, especially in the afternoons when I am prone to sleepiness.  I see additional caffeine in my future, which, while not particularly healthy, is a pretty normal compensatory alternative to spontaneous napping.  I have a suspicion that I've got more energy than I think I have, but I need to test my limits to know how much there is in reserve.  For me, employment means empowerment, not only because I feel I can help my family in other ways, but because I will not be a victim of my habits.

My work at the food pantry made me realize how much poverty affects the spirit, how lack of employment can affect the psyche and how the poorer you are, the poorer you risk becoming.  I am right to fear these conditions and blessed that this fear is encouraging me to act, as opposed to wallowing in anxiety and depression.  I have the kind of support and basics I need to be successful in my new endeavors, and for all of this, I am grateful.  So when I pray for myself and my family, I am also praying for those who have less than I have.  I think it's a natural response.  

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