"Boy, things have finally seemed to swing my way. This new job is working out well. Joel has just turned one and is exuding all sorts of personality, and Jean and I have settled into a new, huge house that seems like a mansion to our eyes. It even looks like we'll sell our old house soon. I knew that after the long and dreary stretch, my luck would finally turn. I'm just glad that ... wait, is that a lump on my testicle?"
I do not like to think of myself as a pessimist. Downbeat, cynical people are a turnoff, and no one wants to be thought of that way. Still, a lifelong predilection towards a "no BS" framework coupled with the enforced (un)healthy skepticism of a journalistic vocation leads me to the conclusion that, if not necessarily a "glass half empty" kinda guy, I am certainly not a sunnyside-up fellow, other than how I like my eggs.
We all have our challenges in life, and in my experience they seem to arrive in waves. Happy times follow sad, and we grit and endure during the bad stuff with the knowledge that things can turn around anytime. That's the outlook of a hopeful realist, which is how I like to see myself.
I went through more than two years of some of the darkest days of my time on this mortal coil beginning in December 2008, when I lost my job at the Indy Star. Though I can't exactly claim I was happy as a bug there my last couple of years, it was still a good job doing features journalism in a major metro market. And I was genuinely stunned to be let go.
This happened just a few months after one of the happiest occasions I've known, getting married to my wife, Jean. After wondering if I would ever find someone with whom I could share a life of stability and affection, I discovered this amazing, beautiful person. It took until nearly my 40th birthday, but finally my personal life seemed to have caught up with the success I'd enjoyed on the professional side.
Then, falleth the axe.
Getting laid off stomped on my self-esteem pretty badly, especially when my job search produced few solid results. I took to freelance, keeping myself busy creating websites and appearing on the radio. Things took a major swing upward with the arrival one year ago of our son, Joel.
After delaying having children because of our new economic uncertainty, we decided that since I was at home anyway -- and our respective reproductive bits weren't getting any younger -- it made sense to get crackin' on some kiddies. We managed to get pregnant after just a few months of trying, and a healthy and wonderful boy came into our lives.
Still, as the pendulum of happiness swung back in the right direction, I couldn't shake a sense of worthlessness. Though I had a steady income from my freelance work, I was still relying on unemployment checks to make ends meet, and those benefits would soon come to an end. I think it's harder for a man than a woman, especially a new father, where instincts to be a provider are joined with social norms that look down on a stay-at-home dad.
A married woman who does not work out of the home is a housewife, while a guy who does the same is merely looked upon as a bum (in this case, mostly by myself).
Then, out of the blue, a job dropped into my lap at a small local marketing firm. The pay and benefits were good, the fellow employees pleasant and professional, and as an added bonus the office was just a short drive from our new house. Meanwhile, I was still able to continue doing the film criticism that is my lifelong passion.
So it was that I happened to be taking a rare long, luxuriant shower one recent evening when I came upon a knobby little protuberance down there. My first thought was not fear, or confusion, or anger but the only true reaction of the studied realist:
Visions of long bouts of chemotherapy, hair loss, sterility and death soon followed. My thoughts soon turned to money -- one thinks a lot about money when sudden unemployment occurs. Cold rationality overtook wild emotions. If I died, I pondered, would Jean be able to stay afloat financially without my paycheck? (No fracking way, the numbers quickly told me, when you factor in the astronomical cost of daycare.)
I will cut to the chase and say that I am not yet a cancer patient. The doctor took all of about 13 seconds to pronounce Mr. Lump an epididymal cyst -- aka, a harmless growth.
Being a hopeful realist, I did not jump for joy or do giddy handstands. I simply called my wife and then my parents to tell them the news, and looked forward to putting the whole episode behind me.
But it has brought me a renewed ... well, appreciation isn't exactly the right word, so let's call it cognizance about the ebb and flow of life, the challenges and the triumphs that seem to follow so closely on each other's heels.
And it's dug up a little empathy for those, like my father and an old high school teacher, who are currently fighting cancer with bravery and good humor.
I know that compared to many, my problems are paltry little things. But it's in how we face up to our challenges that we grow and evolve. I prefer to do so head-on, with a smirk of bemusement, and the knowledge that a glass is never half empty or half full, it's just halfway.