I’ve canceled the pity party. I returned the decorations and told the caterer it was a no go. She was nonplussed as I wasn’t serving anything, and the party store clerk just shrugged.
January fifth, first Monday of the year, I returned to school from our two-week Christmas break to greet my colleagues and sit through a day of welcome-back/here-we-go professional development in preparation for the return of our students on Tuesday.
I never saw them. The end of the day saw me handed my walking papers; the dismissal was unexpected and unexplained. A job search – usually something I relish the excitement and challenge of – was now the extent of my list of New Year resolutions. This one was different: it was a challenge, but I was not excited.
As January rolled into February, and as the results started coming in from various applications and resume submissions, and as the ‘TBNT’ (thanks-but-no-thanks) section in my job search ring binder continued to fill, the situation became more frustrating, the opportunities – the potentials – more scarce. My aggravation was growing in inverse proportion to our bank account. My frustration was duly noted by family and friends, though I was also complimented on my optimism. I don’t think I was becoming a total malcontent.
Since moving to New Orleans nearly seven years ago, I had begun to look forward to February, and the onset of Mardi Gras season – a big deal in New Orleans. While we are not among the formal-ball-and-pageantry oriented, socialite crowd, my wife and I have developed some traditions centered on favorite parades, and scoping out comfortable, familiar spots from which to view them. Nothing major, but some couples time that we enjoy. This season promised a bit of a respite to my employment situation. Figuring correctly that most employers would be putting their hiring practices on the back burner for a few weeks, I would temper my frustration in lack of any new job postings or progress in any processes
The first full weekend of Mardi Gras festivities, my wife and I broke with personal tradition to take in three of the Sunday parades (they run parades back-to-back-to-back on multiple days). The weather was great, we found easy parking, got to our usual curb-watching locale, set up our lawn chairs and settled in. A little journal writing and some reading, plus talking to nearby revelers quickly and amusingly kills off an hour of wait time. The parades themselves were good, the beads plentiful, and floats creatively amusing. All in all, a nice relaxing day.
Yet we headed home with me in something of a funk.
It had been an enjoyable afternoon, with thoughts of my job search temporarily shelved, until two not unexpected encounters with the marching bands from the school I had been let go from and from the school I taught at the previous three years. No big deal, I thought. It was even enjoyable in a way, as I was able to exchange shouted greetings and a high-five with a teaching colleague and a couple of students that I wouldn’t have expected to take notice of my presence. Still, thoughts of what was and what could have been had me frustrated and had me mentally playing the self-pity game.
Then I got home, and hopped on my computer.
Expecting to simply check Facebook and then some email before moving on to other simple, to do list items, I logged on for a late Sunday afternoon, quick perusal of Facebook postings. Not much new, numbers wise, than I had left off at that morning, though one particular post immediately caught my eye in its abrupt casualness: an old friend was passing on the news that his wife had died that morning of breast cancer. She was forty-eight, and they have five kids, the oldest of whom is in college.
I read the string of condolences from various friends – their fellow church members, mostly, who expressed sympathy and admiration at her strength – noting in many cases at her resolve in that most of them were unaware of just how seriously ill she had been. It was touching, sad, inspiring and thought-provoking. I left my note of condolence for an old friend and moved on.
A few minutes later, checking my email, I noticed one that I had read already, but had left in my inbox; an update from the website CaringBridge – an update on the adult son of old friends. His leukemia, thought to be five years in remission, had recently returned and the email was an update on the status of his re-hospitalization and the hope behind an impending bone marrow transplant.
Two shots of perspective is a good prescription for what ailed me, but it didn’t stop there.
I didn’t have to look too hard for other there-but-for-the-grace-of-God examples, they were just sitting there: the multiple, usually lame, emailed jokes from an old friend in his second decade of battling Parkinson’s – the internet provides his solace and socialization these days. There was the Facebook chat transcript from an even older friend, back on the wagon and doing well after a sobriety relapse, and an entry from another friend who periodically shares the inspiring blog posts of her cancer-battling, twenty-something daughter. I also took note of some funny Facebook posts from another old friend – a former college professor of mine – who has inspirationally beaten his cancer back three different times.
More sobering was another post by a friend, commemorating the accident seven years ago that claimed the life of four school kids, including a member of my son’s then-scout troop. And there was also that day’s text message exchange I had with an old friend, during which I was mindful that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of their child’s death.
Each social media induced realization was like the end of an ophthalmologist’s new-glasses exam: “Which one makes things clearer? THIS one…or this one? This one…or this one….?” By the time the new week rolled around, I had a new outlook and viewpoint on my job search, and a different take on my life in general.
As humans, we tend to be myopic in our approach to life; sometimes we just need to put on our glasses, sometimes we need to purposely seek out a different set of lenses.
Oh, about that party I mentioned earlier? Don’t hold your breath. I won’t be sending out any ‘save the date’ cards.