Friday, November 18, 2011

How to Take a Year Off--Whether You Planned One or Not

Elul and I moved to Boca Raton, Florida, nearly a year ago. Leaving all our furniture and much of our personal property to be cleared out and auctioned off in our absence, we drove across the country from Nevada with our one remaining car stuffed to the gills. Although we'd signed a one year lease for an apartment in Boca, at the time we really had no idea what we were going to do once we got here. Would we end up staying for years, letting our dream of making Aliyah fade away?

We had a strong sense that being in Boca was a temporary situation, but one that was very important to take advantage of. We already knew the job market was terrible--just as bad, if not worse, than the one we'd left in Nevada. Sure enough, my attempts to find work in education did not succeed. Attempts at switching fields also failed, and there was neither the time nor the money to invest in going back to school for retraining. I was not the only one facing this problem; as I filled my time with volunteer activities in the Jewish community here, I saw employees--some who had been employed for more than twenty years--get laid off as the "soft money" dried up. "Hard money" also flew out the window at lightning speed: teachers, bus drivers and paraprofessionals also got the axe as the county faced shortfall after shortfall.

I'd left a job and a small part-time business in Nevada, and Elul had been laid off just before we moved. When we moved, we both suffered the loss of our friends at our temple in Las Vegas. Losing our social network was just as difficult, if not more so, than leaving our respective jobs. When I was in my twenties, I bounced around several European countries and always managed to make new friends. I now realize that it is relatively easy to do that in one's twenties, and it's often really hard when you're in your forties and fifties!

Middle aged people have lives, careers, homes, and relationships they've nurtured for years and even decades. Their lives are full and often very, very pressured. Middle aged people are often more suspicious of strangers, and this suspicion is often sadly based on past experience. Middle aged people have more to lose, and therefore more to protect. We protect our time, our assets, our careers, our physical health, and our mental and social spaces. The time has not yet come to completely relax, as we hope to do in retirement. Instead, we need to step it up so we can go the final distance in our careers. We are also noticing that our co-workers (and our competitors) seem to be getting younger and younger every day, ever so softly nipping at our heels.

Despite arriving as total strangers, Elul and I kept our guard up socially this past year. While we have made a few friends through our wonderful temple here, we also are aware that we have held back quite a bit. We have only entertained family at our home, and we have only been to the homes of a handful of people we've met here. I am absolutely certain this is because we have somehow sent out the vibe of  "don't  get too close," to these lovely people. This has nothing to do with them, but only ourselves: we are holding back because we don't want to go through the pain of leaving again. Rationally, I know this is a silly way to think. After all, "'tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."

Elul's father died in October of 2010. My father also died in February of that year. Although our respective mothers and siblings are alive, we have all been very closely involved in the process of death and mourning. Elul's mother broke her collarbone last summer, and my mother had a surprise stay in the hospital last week, which scared the crap out of everyone. Our bodies are so fragile, and the "stuff" of our lives--careers, homes, jobs, identities--is so transient. How ironic it is that just as I started to feel more like a "grown-up," everything shifted beneath me and some of it disappeared altogether.

Pema Chodron's excellent book of essays, "When Things Fall Apart," discusses this essential transitory nature of life in detail, and I often turn to it. It reminds me to come back to the present moment, and pay as much attention to the "small" things in life as the "big" things. A teacher--I believe it was Joseph Goldstein--once said that boredom is merely a symptom of being in a state of inattention. Living this quiet, transitional year "off" in Boca has allowed me to slow down and pay attention to my life, even if it is merely paying attention to my perceptions of the past and the projections of the future. It has allowed me the time to let creativity and wonder arise again, and to experience the thrilling anticipation of life in Israel.

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