Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hope

Sometimes when I'm driving home at night, I look into the illuminated houses that pass me by. I see couples cooking dinner or a family huddled around the glow of a television. I see art on the wall. And book shelves. And dining room tables. And hanging pots and pans.

And all the things that make a home. 

And often, I feel like a lost, little girl--not a day over ten years-old--with her nose pressed against the toy store window and I think, "I can't begin to imagine what would have to happen in my life for me to ever have such beautiful things."

And, to be clear, it's not just about things. It's not just about longing for possessions or status or wealth. It's about security. And comfort. Health insurance. Peace of mind. Just knowing that we have enough money in the bank to buy what we need.

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We are not homeless. We have good health. We have things we need. But we are living below the poverty line. We are on Medicaid. On a daily basis, I walk the university campus of a multi-million dollar enterprise. I am a student with a right to be there. Just by being there, I must look wealthy. And in many ways, by some standards, I am wealthy. I have money in the bank. What a gift.

But hope is not a feeling that comes easily for me.
Call me a pessimist.
Call me a realist.
But this season of graduate school and standards and curriculum and expectations and career and "turning 30" has me feeling scarce and desperate and less-than.

I shared this with my 75 year-old friend, Carole. She laughed hysterically. "But you're so young," she said with surprise. "What do you have to worry about? There's so much ahead of you. There's so much to feel hopeful for."

And she's right. She must be. She's old. She knows stuff. And hearing it was hard. It's like I've adopted a posture of "never enough" that clouds all of the opportunity in front of me. I'm struggling to see clearly. I'm desperate to graduate and move forward to all that "hope" out there somewhere.

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I spent the morning re-reading some blogs I've written over the past 10 years. But mostly, the past four. About Korea and Cambodia and Vietnam. About things we were able to experience and witness and learn. We felt so "rich" in Korea. We were both working and making money and paying off student loan debt. But alas, in the United States we aren't valued in quite the same ways.

And so now we scrimp by. And to say the shift has felt disorienting would be an understatement.

We went from having a large apartment, making more money than we needed, and being valued simply for speaking English to living in a tiny apartment, making less money than we need, and being valued only for what a graduate degree on paper might get me.

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I think a lot about money.
And debt.
And retirement.
And the cost of health care.
And the cost of having a child.
And mortgages.
And the cost-of-living.
And annual income.
And career.
And whether or not we will have what of my peers have.
And how we chose degrees we were interested in.
But not necessarily degrees that make money.
And whether or not I'm okay with that.
And what we've gained.
And what we've lost.

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I know security doesn't just fall out of the sky if you wish for it. I know that nice things require hard work and regular income. My parents haven't just wandered into a sense of financial security. They've worked for it. And so at this moment, we have accumulated enough birthdays to be adults, we just don't have any adult things to show for it.

And maybe I'd feel more secure if it weren't for the Internet and the regular reminders that people ten years younger than me have careers and homes and families and a dog. I made other choices. I'm grateful for the opportunities I've been given. But let's be clear: it's a trade-off. For sure. 

And I know that life is about more than just material possessions and making money. Because when I drive by those houses in the neighborhood, I get this familiar ache in my chest. 
I'm longing for a home.

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And so, as we enter a new year.
As Jeremy and I conquer the last five months of graduate school.
As I look for a job and a career.
As we become a two-income family.
As we continue to find our way on this side of the world.

I have to practice gratitude for all that we have.
Because we have so much.

And I have to hold onto hope.

For all its ridiculousness and youthfulness.
For all the ways I want to talk down to the silliness of hope.
Hope is where I'll be.

Hope that we can crawl above the poverty line.
Hope that we can make enough to be okay.
Hope that the security I've felt before, will find me again.
As it always does.
As we always do.

Hope. Always.


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