Search This Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Artifacts and Safety Blankets

Flashback to December 2016, and I was just starting to recover from what was, up to that point, one of the greatest losses of my life.  I know that sounds so very dramatic, but in my mind what I had with a former employer was more than a was a kind of relationship that I expected to last until retirement, based on an unspoken promise of "if you work hard, everything will be okay".  In hindsight, that was a big issue:  What I thought of as a kind of relationship was, in fact, just a job.  Those last three words, "just a job", are easier to type than to actually admit.  In fact, I'll still call it something of a work in progress.  More on that in a moment.  

The above comes from a fairly deep place.  Having grown up on the downside of the socioeconomic spectrum, I wanted nothing more than to have some measure of success, even if I couldn't actually define what success was, well outside of not being poor.  What I could define though was the idea that success came from hard work.  I got that much from my mother.  And I did work hard, at pretty much everything I did.   I earned some of the things that came with my naive vision of success, including more money, leadership responsibility, and decent professional titles.  What I didn't understand though was that along with that version of success came a dependency...a risk if you will...that ultimately and actually had very little to do with hard work. 

Fast forward to the working world of 2023, and any collective sense of employment being an actual relationship is continuously, truly, and utterly false.  A fiction of the most poorly written sort.  This isn't just me being overly dramatic for blog hits; you just need to pay attention to the news.  See HERE for just one of the hundreds of similar articles.  I feel for these folks.  Been there.  Done that.

Part of my clarity has been an ongoing effort to understand that I am valuable over and above what I do to earn a living.  I'll readily confess that this is an extremely difficult thing for me, and I can't declare any kind of victory; at best I can say that I've moved in the right direction.  Heck, by the time I actually do retire, I may almost get it.  The "it" is that "it's just a job".  

By the way, my goal (if you want to call it that) of understanding that "it's just a job" isn't a reflection of my failure to care about what I do.  If anything, I think I am doing better work now than I ever have in the past.  It just means that I try to care about the right things, like the people I work with, and not some amorphous, amoral entity (and to hell with what the U.S. Supreme Court has decided).    Anyway, at almost 59 years old, it's good to know that I can still be learning.

Driving all of this?  The fact that I actually took a big step recently:  I disposed of a ton of old work stuff.  These were like artifacts that I kept of a former life.  I wasn't using them, and they took up a lot of space, but for years I clung to them as if they were a kind of medal for winning a battle.  Or more like a large participation trophy.  They were a kind of proof that "I was someone" once.  Lo and behold, I've always been someone; it's just taken a while to grasp that point.

I probably still have too many things I am hanging on to, too many things that are more of a safety blanket than anything else.  As the song goes, "life is a series of hellos and goodbyes", and it's time to say goodbye to some things.  

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Loss is Not Logical

It's probably some inherent facet of human design that we search for meaning in times of personal loss.  That loss could be the death of a family member, a beloved pet, some remembrance of our childhood, or even the end of a long friendship.  At least for me, there has been this desire to somehow, at least initially, try to make some larger sense out of the losses I have experienced.  I write that last sentence full of the knowledge that what I have experienced in the way of loss likely pales in comparison to that of many others.  This noted, I have been an abject failure in my trying to understand loss.

Then someone smart told me something in four words that brought me some sense of understanding:

Loss is not logical

Loss doesn't follow a neat, predictable set of rules that can be analyzed, re-engineered, and re-assembled then placed into a nice little and understandable box that we can put on a shelf when we should be done with it.

Loss is messy.  It lingers.  It has a terrible habit of being open-ended, sometimes seeming as if it will never end.  It overstays its welcome and lives rent-free in our heads.  There are examples of it in my own head where in spite of my best efforts at understanding, it can become, at times, pervasive.

Loss for me sometimes "leaks out" in the form of very vivid dreams.  These aren't what I'd call nightmares.  There is no violence.  There isn't even mourning.  In fact, oddly enough, these kinds of dreams for me almost always involve doing the most mundane of things.  Think traveling with someone long gone.  Visiting with a long-ago friend.  This is, I suspect, the heavy reality of loss that (what I believe to be) my logical mind is utterly incapable of discerning, no matter how much analysis I put forth.  What's left?  That would be what dreams are, namely a kind of biological cleaning of our mental cache.  

John Steinbeck once sort of described this very same idea...much better than I ever could...when he wrote:

"It is so much darker when a light goes out than it would have ever been if it had never shone."*

That light could be a brother, a pet, a friend, or even a place.  The specifics matter far less than just the sense of void that is created.  

So what's the answer?  Where's the solution?  In short order, that would be "nothing" and "nowhere".  I think we just learn to live with the loss, and it becomes a part of us.  Some of us may even view this through a lens of faith, that kind of abstract thing where, in the absence of any real proof, we still believe in something.  I admire faith, by the way.  Well, make that what I consider to be genuine faith:  That which is not driven by or about obedience or fear of punishment.  If faith were only about obeying a higher power, then dogs would be our role models.  Fortunately, that's not the case.

So in the end, what have I accomplished in this posting?  I'd say a solid "not much", other than to maybe nudge myself away from a lifetime of viewing the world through a lens of logic and instead giving myself permission to just experience.  This all sounds so very simple...when typed...but yet still so very difficult.

(*) From The Winter of Our Discontent