Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Choices

That's what life is all about, isn't it? Every day we make choices which effect our lives, as well as the people around us. My big choice at the moment is career wise. The scary part is the word "change". There's a little kid in me stomping her feet and screaming, "It's not fair!" The adult in me knows that life ISN'T fair...it just...is.

Hubby, of all people, understands how I feel. He too once had a job where the impossible was expected of him and yet when he managed to deliver, the bar was just raised higher. After ten years of that work environment, he called me at work one day and asked if I could add him to my health insurance. I checked, called him back and told him it was possible.

"Bring home the forms," he said, his voice bearing a trace of elation that I hadn't heard in months, "because I'm going to the corporate office to tell them I quit!"

I was proud of him. And scared shitless.

Suddenly I knew how the men of my Dad's generation had felt. Although Hubby had already lined up a place to go temporarily, I was now the "steady pay check". Like it or not, until the future sorted itself out, I couldn't get mad and join the "I quit!" bandwagon. I had to stay put to maintain our financial integrity, which isn't easy considering what my employer considers a salary. I was already restless after 6 years of handling elections, but I managed to transfer to where I find myself now, therefore losing nothing...benefits wise. Hubby's declaration of independence had sent my heart soaring one minute in hey-he's-free-and-we're-in-this-together mode yet a moment later, I realized my heart was beating awfully loud in my ears.

We made it work. Where many guys find it mandatory to be THE breadwinner, hubby didn't care. He'd proudly joked with customers that he liked being a "kept man". Yeah, right. He still mows the lawn. And at this point in time, he is self employed with an ever growing archery business. Sure, I tease him that out of the phrase "Rich and Famous" he's only gotten the latter part. But he's happy.

Well, except for a few moments this weekend where I made him feel slightly miserable because we're not at a point in this sad economy where I can declare my independence. See "Life isn't Fair" rule. He held on, taking abuse for 10 years. I've been here 21...yeah, you can imagine.

So here I sit, surrounded by choices. Keep a job I'm growing to hate thanks in part to the sucky economy. Run for my life to something....anything, just to get away. I've contacted people I know who might know people. Their answers mean more choices. Submit an application for Activities Director at an assisted living facility, where someone has already put in a good word for me, with the knowledge that their expansion leading to the position has only gotten as far as clearing ground? Consider a newspaper reporter position that pays more, not knowing if I'd be asked to sell my soul [again] if I can't get them to just accept me as a Features Writer? Stay where I am, slightly miserable but financially secure...and insured. For now.

Sigh.

This being a grown up stuff is not panning out the way it was explained to me in childhood. Someone changed the rules and I didn't get a copy of the update.

In the middle of all this contemplation, I recalled a conversation I had with my father-in-law years ago. After 22 years as an Air Force Reconnaissance Jet pilot [meaning his plane shot photos, not ammunition], he'd retired a Lt. Colonel. We were talking about his tour in Vietnam, where the only weapon available to him was the pistol strapped to his ankle in case he had to eject. I remember asking him, "But weren't you afraid flying over enemy territory with people shooting at you when you couldn't shoot back?"

I'll never forget his answer.

He smiled at me the way parental figures do before replying, "The biggest choice you make every day is whether or not to get out of bed. Once you put your foot on the floor, you've chosen to live. Whatever's gonna happen, will happen."

That one conversation has often been the inspiration I needed to try something new. Or to get out of bed.

You see, my father-in-law was a very content man. A few days before his birthday he'd gotten out the projector to show slides of places they'd been stationed. And as usual, as soon as the lights were out, his own kids would slowly filter out of the room, one at a time. They'd seen this presentation a million times. But I'd been born and raised in the same small town several generations of my family had grown up in. His slides took me to places I'd never been, even more real due to the stories that came with them. So we both pretended not to see everyone leave us as he answered my seemingly endless questions. As we got the call to come eat, he looked at me with a smile and said, "You know, if I died tomorrow, I'd be content. I've had a wonderful life. I've been places some people only dream of. I still get to fly while I'm doing crop dusting. I have a wonderful family and they marry good people. [insert me grinning here]. I'm a happy man. Let's go eat!"

A month later, he died.

It was ironic and sad, unexpected and never explained. For fifteen years after retiring he flew crop dusters, first planes and finally helicopters. One of my proudest moments was when he took each of us up in the helicopter, one at a time. It was so small, envision two metal chairs sitting side by side under a dome. I remember he took the doors off...for fun. As the only non-military person in the family, they all thought I'd be the one who wanted to be grounded fastest. I lasted longest, a point of which my father-in-law was quite proud.

Several months later he ended his 15 year career on a Friday. He'd ordered a van so he and his wife could finally do the traveling TOGETHER they'd always dreamed of, instead of all that military regulated moving around. Over the weekend he got a call. The farmers who he'd been flying for were a couple of states away, in Georgia. They wanted to know if he'd come back, just once more, to finish another field that they didn't trust his boss to handle. Jovial easy going guy that he was, he agreed. Half a mile from setting down the helicopter for the final time to enjoy a well earned retirement, it plummeted to earth. No reason was ever found for the helicopter's malfunction. When they found the wreck, the helicopter had been crushed to a little over three feet in height. It was a closed casket service, which made saying goodbye harder. And yet there was that small sense of peace in knowing at least at the end, he was doing what he loved. Flying.

So as I face the choice in front of me concerning my career, I see my father-in-law's smiling face. Hubby has that same grin. I guess the bottom line should be simple; Die happy. Or just curl up and die.

Martin Luther King and I were born on the same day. [So what if the U.S. government likes to move it to the first Monday following the 15th]. Like Dr. King, I too have a dream and equality is a big part of it. So my choice for tomorrow is simple...I will give my brain the day off from endless pondering and just eat cake. Yes, chocolate cake. :)

4 comments:

Susan said...

What a man. What a story. I could go on and on, but I'll just say 'thanks for sharing that one, and his wise words'!

Rachel Fox said...

Lovely but so sad too!
Happy birthday for tomorrow.
x

Radge said...

That was a bit special Hope..

hope said...

Thanks folks...you make every day a bit special.