|Beau and Becca, 36 years apart|
Now in my sixties – a number that carries all sorts of weirdness – I have been an orphan over half of my life. In one year’s time, a mere 365 days, I went from one of five to on my own. I am now ten years older than my mother on her last day. I am three years older than my father. I am over twice the age my brother would have been, and my eldest has been gone longer still.
These are unsettled times, as volatile as ever I remember from way back then. The fear that everyone feels now is thick as San Francisco fog. Worry about jobs, losing health insurance, paying the mortgage, student loans – it’s overwhelming.
There is a palatable grief as we witness the changing of the guard in Washington.
This is why I’ve enjoyed this series of six word memoirs so much. April spoke of moving fearlessly forward, keeping hope alive. Recently Robert Hardies (Washington Post) offered three ways to cultivate hope, even when it seems hopeless. Of hope, says Hardies, “start where you are and take one step at a time.” You do the best you can with what you have.
Esther spoke about finding the silver-lining. It’s not always easy, says Esther, because silver linings play hide-and-seek. But she keeps going because she knows – she has faith – that they are there.
Faith is always easier said than done, especially in the face of fretful times. For over twenty years (there’s that number thing again), I have been a writer. But like most writers, and artists, I’ve had plenty of hope, plenty of determination, plenty of ideas, just not enough money to pay the bills. I worked as a journalist, as an editor, as a bookseller. For over twenty years, I’ve worked as an adjunct. An adjunct’s life, like the life of an artist, is uncertain. There are no guarantees. You live semester to semester, month to month. You pay for your own health insurance, your own retirement. At one point, I was teaching at five colleges, twelve classes a semester. And all the while I sent out hundreds and hundreds of CVs and resumes for a full time job. Some I got as far as the interview process, but it always came to three reasons why I was rejected. One, I had the wrong degree. Two, I had the wrong experience. Three, I lived in the wrong location. Eventually, a fourth was included, though it was implied between the lines, I was too old.
Eventually, most of the programs where I taught closed or moved elsewhere. Still, for most of this time, I had two colleges – five classes over the school year -- that were steady.
Until it wasn’t.
So, now what?
I am more than a ridiculous old woman who lives in the woods. I am a statistic. I am one of 5.6 million involuntary part time workers, those of us who prefer full-time work but can’t find it. I am one of the 14.1 per cent who is an older American, and one of 28 percent noninstitutionalized – and isn’t that a glorious word. Not.-- older Americans living alone. Did I tell you how much I hate numbers?
We are all so afraid of what lies ahead.
As Hardies says, we “need a horizon in our lives that is larger than today’s headlines.” Faith – however you define it – provides that larger perspective that spreads across the horizon. Lift your eyes to the hills, he says. Keep your eye on the horizon and keep moving forward.
Mary Ann spoke of puzzles, that works in progress are long haul projects. Isn’t that the definition of life itself, a long haul project? She reminds us that “it will all come together, somehow.”
Hardies tells us of Rumi, and “There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard, they cannot hope. Look as long as you can at the friend you love.”
So we come full circle to my six-word memoir: Family is more than blood.
“This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.” (says the wise alien, Stitch)
For most of my life, and all of her life, it has been just the two of us. We were the Gilmore Girls before the Gilmore girls. And recently, my little, broken family welcomed two new people. My little, broken family grows!
But I have learned over the many, many decades that blood is not as strong as togetherness. Family is not always defined by shared ancestry, but rather by a shared life.
Those who hold you up.
Those who show you the pieces of the puzzle.
Those who point to the horizon, and walk with you.
And if all this is true, then I have a really, really, really big family. Thank you, Monica, for believing in me. And Cynthia, for all our TARDIS larks. And Eric, and Marion, for holding me up. And Karen, for taking my hand. And Vera, for the hearts. And Emma, for your Dumbledore wisdom. And Jo, for the years. And Bonny and Bette, for all the hugs. And Bruce and Joanna, for your journeys and stories and inspirations. And for Teaching Authors, for bringing me into the sisterhood.
I could go on, but you get my point.
Indeed, these are scary times. You have every right to be afraid, feel betrayed, and be angry. But just remember, you are not alone, and therein lies your courage and your hope.
P.S. Yes, it's actually a five-word memoir. But I have always been a bit wibbly wobbly with numbers.