I’ve really been off the grid for the past three months. So many setbacks and upheaval going on in my life that it’s been almost impossible to focus on one of the things I love doing most in the world: writing. So here, then, is my first blog post of many to come.
My favorite United States president has always been President Abraham Lincoln for a myriad of reasons we know about. Through no influence of my own, he is also my daughter’s favorite president.
Lincoln carried the weight of a country divided on his shoulders and sported eloquent speeches and writings. But Lincoln cannot be mythologized. He was human. He was subject to depression and had major political and personal setbacks. And that’s what this post is about: setbacks.
Over the past year, my dad’s dementia not surprisingly worsened — to the point where a nurse recommended hospice. A few days later, a social worker said he didn’t need to be in hospice after all. I guess it all depends on the day a healthcare professional sees my dad. The nurse saw a shell of a man, hunched over, who could barely function. The social worker saw him on a day when he was more lively and sitting upright. I’ve been worried sick over him and my mom and have been preoccupied for a long time. This month, Arielle and I will be flying to Florida — and yes, I always choose the hottest time of the year to visit Florida — so that Ari can visit her grandparents and I can assess the situation with my dad.
In addition, my aunt, who has been like a second mom to me, has been ailing horribly from advanced lung disease. She’s been in the hospital, like, forever. She is gradually declining, and there’s nothing I can do about it. My brother visits her as much as he can (they are both in New York), but understandably I cannot go to New York often. My aunt and I speak by phone, and I am her healthcare proxy, so I’m pretty much kept in the loop about her medical condition and care. But I still feel powerless.
And, most recently, another devastating setback: Three weeks ago I was laid off from my position as an English professor, after more than 20 years of employment at the university. The lack of grant money in Illinois and inability for legislators to balance the budget contributed to ever-declining student enrollment and, unfortunately, a huge bunch of us lost our jobs. (By the way, Lincoln would be appalled at the corruption of Illinois politics today.)
Despite the horrible feelings that come with being laid off, I harbor no resentment toward the university where I found my home and where my passion for teaching was re-ignited. The decision to terminate my position was not done deliberately to harm me, and I have no bitterness at all. I believe bitterness is for bitter people.
Prior to my being laid off, one of my close friends, Ari, and I were planning a trip to Springfield, IL, where Lincoln spent much of his pre-presidential professional life. I’d been there before, but Ari hadn’t. She wanted to see Lincoln’s home and experience Lincoln, not just read about him from history books. We were set: the hotel and rent-a-car arrangements made.
Then I was laid off. And I felt a trip like this — even though Springfield is only a two and a half hour drive from where I live — seemed too exorbitant. I was ready to cancel the trip, retreating deep into my own sorrow and grief. But my good friend persuaded me that this trip should not be cancelled, and Ari agreed.
So there we were, in our rent-a-car on a sunny day driving down to Springfield. Ari loved seeing the Lincoln sites and getting a good glimpse of Lincoln’s world of triumphs and setbacks.
This trip was well worth it and reinforced my respect for Lincoln. After all, he handled adversity so well despite his battle with depression — in addition to the major stresses of his keeping the United States united and his anti-slavery work, many critics tried to tear his reputation apart. He handled setbacks with grace and modesty.
I am grateful for Lincoln, not just for what he did for the US, but how he inspired me. If he could handle the country trying to tear itself apart, I could handle the feeling of being torn apart by temporary joblessness.
So here I am, in the job-seeking pool, looking for college teaching positions. And whenever I have setbacks, I hold Lincoln close to my heart. And thinking about this man has helped me gain strength and cope with the abyss of the unknown.
What have been your setbacks? How have you coped with them?
Tags: Abraham Lincoln, advanced lung disease, being laid off, dementia progression, IL, job loss, Springfield