A Plan is a Roadmap for Disappointment
I laid awake listening to the ceiling and floor fans on a surprisingly hot June night. I thought of my car on the street, knowing a few nights ago someone’s catalytic converter was stolen. My car was my only source of stability at the moment. I prayed for prowlers leave her be.
I had shelter, but no home. I had two graduate degrees, but no job.
But I had a milkcrate of dry goods. I had a carry-on and a backpack of clothes and a blanket. I had my laptop, a few books, two stuffed animals, and the ashes of my recently deceased dog. I dragged around a meditation pouf and exercise ball, admittedly neither of which I used. Somewhere my sense of hope lurked, although she was getting harder to find.
I thought I had a solid plan! Six weeks of unemployment and living in a friend’s spare room and I’d be back on my feet. But that wasn’t how life would go. I would end up allergic to my safe place, forcing me into homelessness.
I’ll never forget the line in an email from my boss and landlord when things turned upside down for me: “the way I see it, you have two options: pay the increase or move out.” The increase meant I would spend more than one paycheck on rent. I told them I would move out.
Four days later, my dog and best friend died in my sobbing arms.
The betrayal and anger and fear rushed again to consume me. I managed to keep these feelings at bay during the day, but at night they attacked. I rolled over and punched my pillow. Again. I know I should have felt lucky. I had dozens of job applications out. I avoided having to sleep in my car so far. I avoided contracting the dreaded virus while bouncing around for weeks on end.
But when would I get a job? Where would I live in three days? Would that last repair on my car hold? When would Covid end? When would I touch someone again? When would I see my family?
I turned my phone on and scanned for places to stay. I looked at my dwindling bank account to see what I could afford. I checked my email for job interview results.
I was turning 38 in three weeks and this was my life?
Two weeks later, I was buried under blankets in a camper in a stranger’s driveway. I watched the condensation run down the windows in the early light. I heard the occasional car speed by and could feel the quiet it left behind.
Another sleepless night, this time accompanied by angsty stomach pain for fun.
Later in the day a friend and I planned to talk to help straighten out my life. She has a gift for seeing patterns others can’t and she’s helped me through other times when I couldn’t see my way out of the muck. I was looked forward to her calm ways and thoughtful insights.
She ripped me a new one. How was I expected to work in environmental science when I had started viewing nature and the environment as a commodity? Had I thanked nature and the ocean for letting me work within them and make money off them for years? Where was my gratitude to my human community for all the support it gives me?
I had criticized other environmentalists for not actually connecting with the environment, all the while disconnecting myself as a fiercely independent person. It was no wonder I lost my job almost two years ago, and that in the ensuing time had not felt inspired to return. My anger kept me out of it. And that anger isolated from people. The reality was, I had done a lot of this to myself by closing off avenues.
But even more, she said, “You are not remotely as fucking alone as you portray. Get over yourself.”
She suggested I make a daily ritual of giving thanks to nature and communing with people again. Good things would happen.
I started immediately.
Two days later I polished off an application to a dream job. One that I am still in the running for. I found a stable housing situation simply by reaching out and saying hi to a friend.
I have chosen to let the pandemic be a teacher. It has helped me to feel more and to show my feelings. It has burst me wide open. My astrological sign is Cancer. We guard everything behind claws and a shell. We don’t easily open up. Especially if showing weakness and vulnerability.
The pandemic gave me the strength to show my weakness.
No one ever said personal growth wasn’t painful.
I had to reach out for help. Unstable housing in a pandemic is truly terrifying, but friends risked their health and safety to take me in when they learned of my situation.
When I let people help, I gained so much. I made new friends. I became closer with the people who helped me. I had incredible experiences at places I stayed. I started meditation and yoga and praying and getting back in touch with nature. My capacity grew. I grew. I grew quieter. My patience deepened. My perspective changed.
I call friends now. I call my family more. I take more time to listen to my grandmother when she tells me about her life. I’m open to new friends. I’m open to deepening old friendships.
Sometimes, well most times, that roadmap that you think will lead to disappointment actually results in you becoming a better, more open, more positive, and grittier person. Sometimes it takes a pandemic and your dog dying and getting kicked out of your home to find your true self.