By Jeanne Ellen Russell
A few years ago, I lost my biggest client and was suddenly broke with no end in sight. I found some work, but never enough to pay all the bills. Then there were the sudden inevitable catastrophes that always seem to happen when you don't have any money. The car's engine died. The roof started leaking. The furnace broke. Soon all my time was consumed with finding work, doing work or trying to deal with whatever new crisis came with the day.
I stopped accepting invitations because I didn't have time for anything but trying to solve my problem. I started to resent family functions and friends who invited me out. They'd invite me to do things that didn't cost money or offer to pay. Still, I resented it. I wanted the whole world to stop. Didn't they know that every moment that I wasted hanging out with them was time I could be working or looking for work? Why didn't they get that?
I stopped entertaining friends, which is something I really enjoy. I felt embarrassed and angry and ineffective. I've always been so self sufficient and have many marketable skills. But of course the fact that I was becoming a hermit did not bring me too many opportunities. Little jobs here and little jobs there but never enough to fix my life. And because I couldn't fix it, I felt like a failure. I didn't deserve to be happy. So when those inevitable moments of joy did arrive, I swatted them away like a bunch of gnats. My house got cluttered because if I stopped to clean it, I was goofing off. That was time that I could have been looking for work or working on one of my many profit centers -- each of which brought in a little income -- but not enough. I felt guilty all the time because I wasn't working every moment. I was procrastinating about working. I started watching the X-files.
Bill collectors hounded me. I was afraid to answer the phone or the door. I hit bottom and then things got worse. But the world didn't end. The sun still came up every day. And I found I couldn't suppress that happiness that was determined to peek out periodically when I least expected it.
Where did that joy come from? How could I feel happy when I was so broke? What was wrong with me? According to Pollyanna, you know Pollyanna ... the enduringly cheerful character in Eleanor H. Porter's book by the same name. Well, according to Pollyanna, the Bible tells us to be glad 800 times. What's wrong with her? I am not a biblical scholar but I know that lots of awful things happen in the Bible. Flood, famine, murder; it's all there. So why are we supposed to rejoice, give thanks be glad? And how can we be glad when the whole world is a mess?
Remember that Bob Weir lyric, "I May Be Going to Hell in a Bucket, But at Least I'm Enjoying the Ride"? I love that song. So I decided to embrace my fate. I told myself that if something didn't improve soon, I'd sell all my belongings (except what I could fit in my car) and go out on the road. Why fight it? I'm 49 years old, but I never took that trip around Europe in my 20s, so I'm due for some adventure. Most of my profit centers are portable, so I could make enough money for food and the occasional motel room. And I know people all over the country. I could couch surf for a year and never stay anywhere more then three days. I started to daydream about it. I'd travel around and come back in the summer to get the kids when they were on their break from college and we'd have an adventure together.
Soon, I started to take the time to walk my labyrinth again and put flowers on the dining room table and spend time with friends. And things got a little better and I started to appreciate it when I had a good meal or a good laugh. And I didn't feel so guilty all the time.
And I'm still here. It's still a struggle; but now I let myself be happy. I take what comes and I don't worry so much anymore. Because I know that the worst thing that can happen is an exciting adventure; and I can handle that.
Jeanne Russell is a guest columnist and a creative services professional who lives in Edinburg. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org