Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Commemorations don’t seem to matter as much right now

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Friday is the 50th anniversary of the day President John F. Kennedy fell victim to an assassin’s bullet. Normally, as a history buff, I’d be all over those stories. 

This year, though, keeping history alive just hasn’t held the passion for me that it usually does. Part of that may be that I felt I was facing my own personal tragedy. 

For the first time since I entered the workforce a few days before my 16th birthday, more years ago than I will admit here, I am unemployed. That word is one that usually goes with statistics. I never expected to be one. 

Yet, in mid-August I learned that the long-term contract editing position I’d hoped would take me to retirement was ending Oct. 1. Try as I might, I haven’t yet found a position to replace it.

Until Sunday, Nov. 17, my situation felt disastrous. The things I enjoyed—reading, writing, studying history and engaging on social media—just didn’t call to me as they once did. It was as if the air were let out of my balloon of passion.

More than one reason to give thanks

As I traveled with my husband to an early Thanksgiving celebration late Sunday morning, I began to see posts on my phone indicating that central Illinois, which we called home for many years, was hunkering down against a swath of bad storms. A welfare-check phone conversation reassured us our family was okay – whew! Once at the hall where our dinner was held, we learned even the Chicago Bears game was delayed due to the weather. 

We said our thanks, ate our turkey and cranberry sauce, and made a new friend or two. 

When the last fork was washed and put away, we headed home. Our smartphones and the TV told stories of the devastation in Washington, Ill. and other communities. We began to think of the people we knew whose homes may have been in the path. We made another phone call, learning that a new friend had lost his home and a former coworker’s was surely in the path as well. 

Over the last couple days, we’ve watched and read stories of survival, faith and resilience. We’ve prayed. We’ve cried. 

What really matters

Losing a job doesn’t seem like a disaster at all anymore. Unlike our friends, some acquaintances and hundreds of families in central Illinois and other states, we still have our home. Our loved ones are safe. 

I think Washington resident Steve Bucher captured what really matters in life as he talked to CNN about the home he lost and the wife with whom he weathered the devastating storm. Bucher says their home is “rebuildable,” but he couldn’t replace his wife. 

Sometimes it takes getting “hit up the side of the head” to know what is tragic and what isn’t, what is important and what’s not so much so. Where we live in mid-Missouri, Sunday’s winds didn’t carry planks through the air as they did in Illinois, but getting hit with the images of devastation did give this blogger some much-needed perspective: I may not have a job right now, but I have a home and a family. 
As much as I love history, being thankful for my blessings just matters a little more to me right now than writing posts about Lincoln at Gettysburg or watching hour upon hour of film about JFK. One thing is constant when it comes to anniversaries of historic events—there’s always next year, maybe not as big a splash, but an anniversary none the less. And, in this day and age, there are Facebook posts, YouTube videos and online news stories to keep stories of milestone commemorations alive.

I’m not at Gettysburg today, as I was during the Lincoln Bicentennial year, and I probably won’t spend much time watching the Kennedy coverage this week. I’ll still say a few prayers and fill out a few more applications in hopes of landing my next job.

Those things pale in comparison, though, to the prayers I offer in thanksgiving for the lives spared as the tornadoes hit and in supplication for families uprooted when their homes were destroyed. 

That seems to matter most right now.