Work all day, toil all day
Not a moment can we waste
Dawn to dusk and beyond
Turn our backs and life is gone
Is this all life is, can there be more?
I've often wondered that myself, while sitting at the many desks I've occupied in paid employment. It's worth noting, too, that I wrote those lyrics in the earlier half of my 20s demonstrating my awareness of that restless questioning... and, for nearly all that remained of that decade, stayed in that lifestyle without even attempting to find a better way. I knew there probably was one, but I was too busy and tired to look for it on top of everything else I had to do. I knew I didn't like clocking 25 hours' unpaid overtime (not that there was such a thing as paid overtime) in a single week, checking work email on weekends, and rushing from a late night at work to another late night at rehearsal and fighting all the while this nagging feeling that it was all, to a point, meaningless. I hated frequently falling sick from the stress, which meant either that my equally overtaxed colleagues had to pick up the slack or I'd come back to work to be greeted by a corpulent In tray. And I did not enjoy holding a nebuliser mask over my mouth and nose with one hand and texting my boss with the other to say that I'd be in as soon as I could breathe. But like the characters into whose mouths I put those words, I asked without much expecting to hear an answer: Can there be more? Even if there was, I couldn't afford to go off in search of it. If I was meant to have this "more", it would have to find me.
Oops. You know what they say about being careful what you wish for...?
I realised with shock last week that it's nearly a year now since I was in a regular, paid job. This year I've had the very infrequent client hour and that's it. My family is not one of those with a deep-pocketed patriarch who keeps grown children afloat indefinitely while they figure out what to do with life. On the contrary, actually, "parentification" is a term my brother and I learnt by living it. It isn't something I'm proud or pleased about, but it's true and I'm learning to make the best of it. So, that I've got this far without becoming good friends with pavement and a hand-lettered cardboard sign, I can only say is through the grace of a loving God. Which isn't to say it rains legal tender whenever I step outside hungry. That grace has mostly appeared in the form of relatives and friends. You know who you are, and I thank you for loving me. Well, I knew you loved me before you fed and sheltered me but now I know it... more?
Being unemployed at 30, for a year at that, was never in my plan. I'd been working to support myself since my second undergraduate year, when I was 20. While I can't say I've loved every inch of my jobs, I have plunged into them with everything I had because that's the way I was brought up. But, as should have been apparent when I was writing this, this, this, this, this, this and especially this, I was all out of balance and as we know from watching accidents in acrobatics, road use and building construction, balance is the only way to long-term endurance. In all that time I hadn't had a single holiday -- my definition of holiday being a dedicated time, preferably spent physically apart from all the usual distractions, of not being needed or summoned by anyone for any reason. Collapse was bound to happen sooner or, as it was in my case, later.
I feel -- I hope -- I'm approaching the end of this unforeseen, yet very necessary, fallow year. As recently as a month ago, I couldn't bear the thought of any work, anywhere, of any sort and duration and commitment level. The very mention of it produced instant nausea and worse. Let's not even mention work; most days it was an achievement if I managed to do the most basic things: get dressed, prepare meals, clean up, do laundry, clean house. It was a bonus if I made it to the mailbox; an extra bonus if I could walk to the shops for groceries instead of driving. After years of letting rest be an incidental, often disposable part of my life, I've had to make it my focus for this season.
One day about three weeks back, I woke up early in the morning, instantly aware that I wanted to work. I wanted to work! I looked forward to getting out of bed! And doing something worthwhile that would help other people to live and, at the same time, give me some of what I need to stay alive. I wanted to work! And, I knew, that meant that something had changed: I can work again.
I can't wait.