Remember the old story about the grasshopper and the ant? The ant spends the pleasant days of summer working hard building a nest and filling it with food, while the grasshopper enjoys the lovely weather and plays. The two encounter each other one warm day and the grasshopper asks the ant to come and join the party; the ant declines. A few months later, snow covering the ground and a cold wind blowing, the hungry, freezing grasshopper shows up at the ant’s door and begs to be let in. The ant, sitting in front of a roaring fire with a larder full of food, turns the grasshopper away with a stern lecture about the value of work before play. The ant was clearly a total douche.
I’ve always identified with the ant (although I would share with my grasshopper friend.) Years ago I made the decision to change careers to something that would give me more financial security, but less day to day satisfaction. I decided my compromises would be made at work, not at home. To me, money means choices, and the more choices I have the better I feel.
My plan worked well; while I never loved my job, I always liked it, and more to the point, I was able to have that good life. However, over the last few years my enjoyment of work has steadily declined to the point where I really and truly don’t want to be here anymore. I’m at the age where looking for a new job is limited; few places are interested in hiring someone over 60. That leaves retiring, which brings me right back to that darn ant. What the story got wrong is that the ant would never spend winter relaxing by the fire with a good book. A real ant type would be nervously pacing back and forth, thinking how safe is the food supply from being ruined by pests, and that there probably isn’t enough to last the whole winter anyway, and getting ready to go out and forage some more as soon as the storm died down.
That’s the reality of being an ant: worrying more about what might happen instead of enjoying what is happening. The battle wages within me, but I’ve come to a decision.
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. I feel words starting to bubble up, but haven’t wanted to act on letting them go.
Late last summer something started to shift inside me. I stopped grieving. I still missed Rick, but it was no longer in the forefront of my consciousness. I was here, now, in July of 2015 and starting to wake up and feel good. It had been a long journey, but I was at the end of it and ready for what comes next.
And then… I heard from my brother. What was thought to be arthritis, then nerve damage, turned out to be cancer: metastasized, stage 4, terminal. That news came on the 3rd anniversary of the day on which Rick went into the hospital. I spent what would have been my 10th wedding anniversary with him and my sister in law for what I knew would be my final visit. He died in late December. He and Rick were close; one of my favorite pictures is the two of them leaning towards each other and both making the same silly face. When Rick died, my brother wrote a heart-felt eulogy; I’ve now returned the favor by writing one for him.
The moving forward I experienced in July disappeared. Emotionally, I went back to where I had been 3 years earlier, almost overwhelmed with sadness and feeling cut off from life. There wasn’t anything to write last fall that I hadn’t already written 2 or 3 years ago.
By now, I should have it figured out, but I’m still floundering. I should be at the next stage of my life, whether that means moving on to a new relationship or being happy and content on my own. I’m neither. I thought I’d grown into a wise woman capable of doing anything. Instead, I’m spending my evenings watching binge-watching old TV shows. I wait for the next bad news.
I’ve sat on this post for a few days. Waiting for the coda that shows my realization this is just one spot in a long journey, or the epiphany that turns this very personal revelation into something with universal meaning. Neither has come to me. I think, for now, I’m just feeling low. I’m still stuck working a job I no longer like. It’s winter, and the sky is dark when I leave in the morning and when I come home at night. There will be more sun in my life, both literally and figuratively, but right now is the darkest time of year.