Saturday, February 28, 2009

So far, this is proving to be a different and interesting Lent for me. As I said in an earlier post, I am abandoning my practice in recent years of studying the lectionary and doing a daily blog post on that. Instead, I am doing some focused reading, trying to improve my prayer life, and doing some volunteer work.

Yesterday, I started the volunteer work with a shift at the soup kitchen at Holy Family Parish in downtown Columbus. It was an interesting experience, somewhat different than I had anticipated.

One thing that made it different than my expectations was that they had PLENTY of volunteers. One of the area Catholic high schools had a group there, a college sorority had sent girls, and there were some confirmation students from a local Catholic elementary school. I didn’t serve food to anyone. Instead, I spent my time with a dishtowel in my hand, drying cookware and serving trays as they were emptied and then washed by another lady who had come from our church.

In some ways, I think that worked out very well. It’s hard to self-aggrandize as you’re drying dishes. There was no opportunity to pat myself on the back or feel better than I deserved to about what I was doing. I just kept drying things and putting them away.

About 200 guests were served lunch. The food was mostly donated by area restaurants, and while it certainly represented an interesting mish-mash of dishes, for the most part it looked appetizing. The guests ranged from looking like one’s stereotype of homeless street people to looking pretty much like me.

For my Lenten reading, I decided to start with Finding Grace at the Center -- The Beginning of Centering Prayer by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating and Thomas E. Clarke. It is pretty interesting so far. It teaches a method of praying that is very similar to Transcendental Meditation and similar Eastern traditions, but is deeply founded in Catholic prayer tradition. I haven’t tried actually applying it yet. By the time I was home with the time to try it yesterday, I was pretty sure I’d fall asleep if I got into the relaxed state it requires. So I read some more, but have not yet actually tried it.

All in all, I continue to work on living in the present and finding the right balance of actively seeking work without allowing the pursuit to consume me. This was a good week. Let’s hope for more of those!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Here it is, Lent again. For several years now I have done a separate blog through Lent, focusing on the daily readings. But I've decided to take this year off from that. I was finding that with each passing year, it was less of a spiritual exercise and more of an exercise in endurance . That was certainly not the point, so I think I'm better off pursuing a different Lenten discipline this time.

I had already committed to some quiet prayer time each day, but I wanted to do some reading, too. So I went to the web to search for suggestions. I found many, but not many that appealed to me. Then I suppose the Spirit must have spoken to me -- because I realized I have some very good books on my own bookshelf that I have either never read or haven't read in a long time. I pulled out the following five books (most of them small) and hope to read some or all of them this Lent.

  • Honest to God by John A.T. Robinson
  • Finding Grace at the Center -- The Beginning of Centering Prayer by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating and Thomas E. Clarke
  • Practicing the Prayer of Presence by Susan Muto and Adrian van Kaam
  • The Other Side of Silence - A Guide to Christian Meditation by Morton T. Kelsey
  • The World According to Mister Rogers -- Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers

OK, I notice that the fifth entry seems a little different. But somehow, it spoke to me just like the first four did.

Perhaps reading these will provide me with some fodder for blog posts, as well. But even if they don't, I figure they should provide some nourishment for both my brain and my soul. I really want to use this time well this year!

Friday, February 20, 2009

This sounds a tiny bit silly to my own ears, but I have come to realize that the biggest problem with my no-longer-employed-fulltime life is that I'm lonely! I send my husband and son off in the morning and I have enough of a routine that I usually stay marching through things up until lunchtime, but from about 12:30 until my son's bus brings him back at 3:30, I really struggle with loneliness!

I'm pretty sure this is a self-induced injury. After all, I know there are tons of other people out there out of work, so it's not like there is no one I can call. Or for that matter, there are probably many at work who wouldn't mind my call. But somehow, I feel that I've lost the art of the casual, friendly call to chat. I am reminded of the scene in one of the last episodes of The West Wing where the character C.J. Craig opines that she has missed the window for buildng a relationship. I have that significant relationship, but I feel as though I've forgotten how to have or be a friend. There were so many years where fulfilling my obligations as employee, wife and mother consumed all my time that I got out of practice at just being a friend.

A friend of mine who called me the other day suggested that I take on some sort of volunteer activity while I'm unemployed. My first reaction was not enthusiastic. I believe strongly in volunteering and have done so in many capapacities over the years, but my first reaction was that volunteering never seems to actually be free. There always seem to be meetings where you are expected to buy your breakfast or lunch, or things where you need to drive all over town burning your gas, or something like that. And right now we are watching pennies that closely.

But upon further reflection, I think Ann (the friend on the phone) may have been onto something. I saw the other day that our church is sending a group of workers to an inner city soup kitchen to work the lunch shift every Friday for Lent. I'm thinking I may try to go join that effort. I figure it would have the double benefit of getting me out interacting with humans AND reminding me that I'm really not that bad off. And obviously, the work would be worthwhile. I also figure if a group is carpooling down there, the financial cost to me to participate really would be darned close to zero!

I haven't posted in a while, I know. I think it is safe to say that for a while there I put too much pressure on myself to write something really, really good and worthwhile, and thus ended up blocked from writing at all. I still hope to raise the bar and make this less a personal journal and more a collection of essays and reflections worthy of publishing. But in the interim, I think writing is healthier than not writing.

My 84-year old mother had a cataract removed earlier this week. The surgery was blissfully uneventful and she is recovering nicely, but surgery day did start with some drama. She was due at the surgery center at 7:00, so I went and stayed the night with her and my sister. We got up that morning and walked out the door at 6:30. I wanted to grab a pencil out of my car for use on crossword puzzles in the waiting room. As I sat in my car sifting through the collection of writing instruments, I thought I heard my sister yell. But I sort of doubted my own ears. After all, it was 6:30 a.m. What's to yell about?

I got out of the car and immediately saw the answer. She was kneeling by my mother on the ground. Mom had somehow fallen on the short was from the front porch to the carport where my sister's car was waiting. She hit her head pretty hard, and her glasses were forced into her right eye with enough force that it opened a gouge on her eyelid. Of course, the eye she landed on was the one she was scheduled to have surgery on. We got her into the car and drove to the surgery center, all three silently fearing that they would cancel the surgery.

As we got out of the car we realized she had scraped up her hands pretty badly in the fall, too. We signed her in and explained the situation. The nurses there were very kind, and immediately took us to an examining room where one of them cleaned up her scraped hands and put gauze bandages on them. She expressed doubt about whether the doctor would want to go on with the surgery, too. But as soon as he arrived in the building they sent him in, and after looking at her eyelid he said, "Sure, we can still do it. And if she gets a little black and blue around the eye, we can blame it on the fall instead of on me this time."

We were very relieved, and as I said, the surgery went like clockwork after that. She has been back to him for her first post-operative exam already, and she goes again next week. My sister tells me the bruises have bloomed into full technicolor glory, but there is obviously no real harm done.

I must say, it feels good to be writing again!

Monday, February 02, 2009

It has been far too long since I’ve posted here. I’m trying to make a fresh start, and to post things that aren’t just diary entries but truly musings about the world at large. Of course, right now the world at large is looking pretty interesting.

As a 50-year-old woman, I’ve lived through a few things. I graduated from college with highest a 3.8 GPA in 1980 and couldn’t find a job to save my life because the economy was in such bad shape. I remember hiding in my house because I was embarrassed to go out and run into people and have to confess that no, I still didn’t have a job using my degree. I worked in dead-end jobs until the fall of 1982, when I entered graduate school. I earned my Master’s degree in 1984 and my career took a much brighter turn thereafter – thanks in no small part to the recovery of the economy.

In the 1990’s I changed jobs several times, convinced by the prevailing ethos that this was the way smart people leveraged their successes. And to some extent, it worked – by the end of the 1990’s I was earning a really good salary and our prospects looked bright. But the company with which I was earning that salary was a technology firm, and when the tech bubble burst in early 2001, I was one of those left unemployed. It took me six months to find a new job, and it was at about 20% less money.

But like most people, we made the adjustments we had to make and got on with the business of living. We wised up and decided not to keep buying larger houses, but to settle into the one we had and call it both home and investment for the time being. We were able to refinance for lower interest rates a couple times, so even now we are paying a very affordable mortgage.

During the period since our last refi, I have been offered even lower rates at times, but they were always variable rate mortgages. When I would demur, explaining that I remembered when mortgage rates were in the double digits, the friendly telemarketers always seemed surprised. One even asked me, “You don’t actually think we will ever see high rates like that again, do you?” Well, yes. I did think so and I still think so, though admittedly the current crisis does mean we won’t see them anytime soon. Still, I am grateful that I didn’t fall into that trap. We are very happy with our 5 3/8% interest rate and our substantial equity, thank you very much.

Now, I am unemployed again. On the one hand, I will confess that I am truly frightened – as I said, I’ve seen a lot in my life, but I have never seen an economic situation quite like this one. Every day the papers carry announcements of thousands of job losses. Where will we all find new work? I have interviewed for some positions I would be thrilled to get that constitute ANOTHER 20% pay cut. I would be thrilled to get them because the work is agreeable, the companies stable and well respected, and it would mean I could count on drawing a paycheck every week. Stability looks very, very appealing to me just now. And while the pay cut hurts, I know we could make the necessary adjustments. It beats continuing to live on unemployment!

On the other hand, when I set my personal unemployment issues aside, I am not as fearful for the overall economy as some seem to be. I know we are in very difficult times, and I know that it is devastating for some individuals. (Hence my fears for myself.) But I believe overall, we will come through this with the economy and standard of living in the country largely intact. I think we are creating some new headaches that will plague our children and grandchildren, but I don’t think they will be insurmountable.

So that’s where I sit right now. Personally, pretty scared. Globally, cautiously optimistic. I hope the two parties eventually come together to try to make the economic stimulus plan the best it can be. I don’t think it is there yet. And then, I hope it works. And in the meantime, I hope I can return to full-time employment to watch it all play out from a less fearful vantage point!