May You Live in Interesting Times

Lately it seems as though the rapturous may be correct in assuming we are living those biblical end of days now rather than awaiting their arrival from the shadowy future. And I am inclined to agree. Nothing I read or hear via the various news sources inspires me with much confidence about the coming new year.

In just the last few months we’ve personally lost thousands in the stock market, fretted over my retirement annuities and watched housing prices begin to slip. Now as our once red-hot economy is cooling to just slightly above freezing, my husband’s employer, a big multi-national conglomerate, is announcing lay-offs and plant closures.

Rob called me from work to give me the news before I could read about it on the Internet site which stands in for a daily paper around our place.

“They sent out a mass email letting us know they were eliminating 5000 jobs and closing or idling plants.”

I already knew and tried to carry on an intelligent conversation after his announcement, but my mind wandered back to the summer of 2003 when my first husband was fired from his job just as we were closing on our new home. His illness was already apparent, and he would be diagnosed as terminal within the coming months. We lost almost half our income in a single afternoon. Money we needed to make the bigger house payment and deal with the medical bills already piling up.

In retrospect, I was lucky. The economy was good. I hadn’t foolishly bought into my realtor’s fantasy presentation of ARM’s, the idea that I could have low rates now and refinance on the burgeoning equity later. It sounded too good to be true, and as it turned out, it was.

With the help of family mostly, I survived until my late husband was able to receive disability. But it was a long 10 months, and I could have just as easily lost everything I’d spent my entire adult life building up through hard work, saving and going without.

Now I am a writer. One who is just beginning her career and not yet earning a living. Being in Canada means I cannot easily fall back on my teaching credentials because they haven’t been accepted here and probably won’t be unless I go back to university and take a few classes to satisfy their requirements. And even if we were in the U.S., education money is always the first to be cut by strapped state legislatures.

So if Rob were to be “reduced”, as they used to call it back in the school district in Iowa where I taught, what would we do?

“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine,” he told me later as we had lunch and he added a big bear hug for emphasis.

And I know somewhere down deep where the fear has yet to seep that he is right. We live in oil country. Despite the current trend, oil is a limited resource and the prices will rebound sooner or later, but how soon? Or how much later? And how would we manage in the interim?

The Home Depot is hiring.

“What do you know about tools? Or home improvement?” Rob asked me. “At the first hint of sawdust you reach for your inhaler. You wouldn’t last an hour.”

The grocery is always looking for people.

“You hate people,” he reminded me.

“I do not,” I protested. “I just hate waiting on them especially when they aren’t very bright.”

There’s always Wal-Mart. The town just got a new super center.

“Uh-huh, where all those bright people shop?”

So okay, I am only suited for writing. Something which can be done in the solitude of my little office at the end of the hall, and where I am not called upon to be personable in person.

For the moment, Rob is employed and more likely to remain so than not, and I remain privileged still, but the alert level has been elevated to a more shrill primary color. These are interesting times indeed and only fools wouldn’t be planning their exit strategies.

This was an original 50 Something Moms piece.

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