Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Year of Gratitude: Epilogue


LONG BEACH, CA, June 12, 2012  -  A year ago today, I began a blog on gratitude.  As you may recall, it was my 49th birthday.  I was depressed because, as a child, I decided I wanted to retire by age 49.  I don’t think that I fully understood what retirement was at that time, or how to prepare for it; I only knew that 49 wasn’t as old as when most people retire, and I knew I wanted “early recess.” 

When my 49th birthday arrived, I couldn’t have been further from retirement, monetarily speaking: I was unemployed and living with my mother. 

For as long as I can remember, I have heard that one can make change one’s life positively by changing one’s attitude – an attitude of gratitude – and I recognized the need to change the course of my thinking at the very least.

I considered keeping a diary as a way to record my daily contemplations, but I’ve never been good at journaling – I never manage to keep it going for more than a few weeks or months, and after awhile, it would just drop.  My latest attempt was about 18 months ago.  No, if I wanted to keep it up for a year, it would have to be in a form that others would be able to read it, and if there were the chance that anyone could hold me accountable to maintain it – even through the simple expectation of the next entry – I’d have a better chance at diligence.  So I began this blog.

I’ve thought a lot about what I would say in this final entry, and to be honest, I’m still not sure what I should mention as I type (and reread and edit).  Frankly, I haven’t had the miraculous transformation I was hoping for.  I’m a little depressed again this year, partly because I’m now 50 years old, and I can easily imagine my dating prospects drying up considerably; I never expected to be alone at this age.  I’m a little blue because I have to acknowledge that I am not the young man I used to be, and the life I had imagined can no longer look like what I had pictured.  Reaching the half-century mark as a single gay man is sobering.

I am also a little jealous of my friends who also turned 50 recently who had wonderful parties to celebrate the milestone, organized by lovers or spouses, or family, or even, as in one case, by himself (though he had lots of help making it happen).  I passed the day quietly – just another day of the week – with good wishes from people who are very important to me.  It certainly didn’t feel like a milestone.  It wasn’t anything like my 40th, where my coworkers decorated my office all in black and threw me a little party in the afternoon, and [my boyfriend at the time] took me out in the evening to celebrate.  I was alone this time.

I'm also not where I thought I'd be professionally.  As a child, I expected to be a successful actor and singer.  Life doesn't always move in the direction of your dreams, especially when you give them up for what you think are good reasons.  I've had some great experiences doing other things, and truly enjoy where I've landed in the world of Learning & Development.  I will always self-identify as a singer and actor, though I haven't done either in years.  That, in and of itself, is something to ponder.

While I acknowledge my good fortune to have an income again, I don’t have much in the bank yet, and I can’t afford to buy myself a birthday present.  Yet.  …That will come.

And yet…

I am grateful for all of the events that have happened this year.  I’m grateful for hitting rock bottom in January and February, thinking I might not survive the feelings of total failure as the three-year mark of unemployment came and went, and that I learned that I could survive even that. 

I am grateful for my friends – so many of them – who calmly, rationally, lovingly spoke to me during my worst days and reminded me I was worth something; who hugged me and encouraged me to join them for fun, or to share a coffee, or dinner, or a movie; whose unflagging reassurance kept me going.  Only those who have been through this can fully understand how important that has been or what it means to me to call them friends.  I cannot possibly put the depth of these feelings into words.

I am grateful to my mom for allowing me to get frustrated and unpleasant, and never let that get in the way of our relationship. I am grateful to her for unwavering support, for her love, and her faith in me when I had none left in myself.  She gave me life a second time.

I am grateful to my daughter Elizabeth for her love, her encouragement, and her continual contact; she has become one of the most beautiful people I know – inside and out – and, if it weren’t for her being there for me, I likely would not have survived the dark times.  She gave me a reason to persevere and to keep living. 

I am grateful for my health, and have a greater appreciation for those who do not have health insurance; my two years without it taught me a lot about what those who really need it experience when they finally see a medical professional.  My problems were never that bad, and I saw much suffering among those whose needs were far greater.  Until you've needed a "free" clinic (which is rarely free), it is difficult to understand how second class citizens are actually treated.  Some of those working in the clinic were gracious, others not so much.  I was particularly surprised by a doctor who seemed indignant that I would question her resident's diagnosis (he appeared to be 12 years old) because of the haste of his decision.  It was as if I - an unemployed, uninsured man in his middle age - couldn't possibly have an informed opinion given my sorry state, as if my situation confirmed my stupidity.  I was surprised by her condescension, as if her volunteering her time made such inquiries out-of-bounds.  In retrospect, I figure that perception was as much about my own self-impeachment as anyone's behavior toward me.  I feel lucky to have needed so little medical attention while I lacked insurance coverage.

I am grateful to my job seeking friends.  I was so honored to have been asked so many times for information and advice; to be allowed to lead a group, and to help others.  I am grateful to my mentors, Cleon Cox first and foremost, who all showed faith in my abilities and provide me opportunities to use them.

I am grateful for the challenges and lessons I’ve faced over the past year.  I have grown from them, just as the cliché tells us – I am stronger for these experiences. 

What have I learned?  That the proverb my mom told me is true: “Everything works out right in the end; if it isn’t right, it’s not the end.”  And that the end eventually comes.  “All in good time.”  If I can just stick it out, it will get better.

This year has not been transformational in the way I had originally hoped, yet I did achieve success – I finally landed a job; I am earning an income again; I can now plan for a future, and while nothing may go as planned, I’ll hopefully be prepared for it.  I have adapted to different living situations, climates, pressures, and responsibilities, and have gained friends and colleagues in the process.  I have grown in empathy and understanding.  I have become who I am today in part because of what I have learned over the past year.

And I have learned that life’s lessons take a lifetime to learn.  I won’t get it done in one year, even when I focus every day on something for which I am grateful. It’s not a game show – “gratitude” is not a door I can choose on “Let’s Make a Deal” to get a reward when they open it.  I don’t receive everything I want just because I’m grateful.  I am grateful for what I have, for those I love and who love me, and for what is to come.

Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope some of what I’ve said has had a positive impact, and has made a difference.  Writing it has made a difference for me.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Year of Gratitude: Day Three Hundred Sixty-five

Day 365 – The Last Day

Today is the last day of being 49 years old – the last day of being “in my 40’s.”  It has been a tumultuous decade with many opportunities for growth.  I admit I’m a little afraid that today is the last day of my “youth.”  I wonder if 50 will feel as old as it sounds; I’ve passed “middle age” – few live to 100, and I’m not sure I would want to anyway.  The likelihood of having fewer years ahead of me than behind is rather sobering, but it’s not the end.  I have a lot of time and energy ahead of me, and I’m grateful for my health and my current prosperity.  I’m far ahead of where I was a year ago, and I’m grateful to be less afraid of the future.

With the last day of this blog comes a responsibility to begin in earnest the mental process of analyzing what I’ve learned this year; I will examine the lessons that have become visible to me, and will consider those that perhaps haven’t been quite as obvious.  I am certain that what I see today – and write about tomorrow – will be less insightful than what I’ll look back on ten years hence.  I have no doubt that when I turn 60, I’ll have a different perspective again on what I view today.

I’m feeling a certain sense of disquiet – as if I haven’t grasped something I should have over this past year.  What did I miss?  Where is the total transformation I hoped for during my 49th birthday, when I felt as if greater exercise in gratitude would change everything?

I have a feeling I’ve only begun a larger lesson that will take more than a year to learn.  As it is, I am finishing a very full and successful year, even if there is a lingering doubt.  Such is life, I suppose.

I am grateful for life.

A Year of Gratitude: Day Three Hundred Sixty-four

Day 364 – Deadlines

Deadlines have a way of motivating you; sometimes it offers you the “light at the end of the tunnel” I wrote about a few days ago; sometimes it helps you to finally do something you’ve been putting off.  Either way, if it’s important to you to meet your deadlines, they’re helpful in getting things done.

I have a couple of deadlines looming.  The farther one is to have my house set up enough to accommodate a friend who will be staying with me while he is between homes for a few weeks.  (I couldn’t help but offer when he said he didn’t have a place lined up, though I wonder just how good a host I could possibly be as I contemplate the disaster that is currently my home.)  I need to get the place organized at least enough to lay down the second mattress set and make a bed for him.

The closer deadline is the end of this blog (or at least the current purpose of it).  My 50th birthday is the goal here – to write something for which I am grateful for each day of my 50th year.  I have not been diligent about staying on time with it; “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans,” said John Lennon several decades ago, and it still is true.  I am glad to have this deadline coming, and a little apprehensive, too.  Things aren’t quite where I had hoped they would be after a year, though I am hardly in a place to complain.  A lot of good has come this year, and a lot of growth.  I hope with time I can see a greater change toward the positive than I see now.

So with that, I’m grateful for deadlines, and their ability to help me accomplish what I set out to do… whenever I get around to doing them. 

Now, I have another box to unpack.

A Year of Gratitude: Day Three Hundred Sixty-three

Day 363 – Haircuts and Birthdays

There were two events today: my mom’s birthday and my haircut appointment.

OK, so they aren’t equal in importance, and I was only able to do one of them in person, but they both offer a fresh look at what is to come.  For my mom, it’s a chance to decide how to approach the next year; for me, it was a chance to decide how to approach my appearance for the next few weeks.

Starting points.  New perspectives.  Options.  Fresh perspectives.  It always feels good to have choices.

A Year of Gratitude: Day Three Hundred Sixty-two

Day 362 – Repeats


Today marks the end of my sixth week at work.  For many, this would be the “hump day” for the typical 90-day probationary period, but Brandman uses a 180-day custom for new hires.  There was no explanation as to why, and I guess I had a severe lack of curiosity about it as I never inquired.  It’s interesting, though – I wonder sometimes, as I read my personal email or furtively access Facebook, if someone will notice that I’m not doing much yet and question why I’m here.  But my boss knows, and I’ve asked my co-workers if they have anything on their agenda with which I can help.  They haven’t had anything, so I guess I’m OK.

Still, I see the repeats happening – the work I have is still here for me each morning; the desk still has my photo of my daughter and me at Cannon Beach; the job is still mine.  I’m happy to have a job – it may not be using my skills yet, but it’s giving me that sense of normalcy I’ve lacked over the past three years.  No, I’m no more normal than I was six months ago, but my world is.  I’m back.  And I’m happy about that.