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Something profound happened to me recently. It happened shortly after getting my second paycheck from my new job this past Christmas. I passed a stranger in a grocery store. He looked at me, nodded his head, and spoke three rather innocuous words; “How’s it goin’?” It was one of those questions we all ask, never really expecting a reply. It’s one of those weird things we do in society to show that we acknowledge the presence of another human being right before passing through their ‘personal space’ He was just being polite, I’m sure. Normally, I would just nod back, and answer with something like, ”Hey, what’s up?” or something equally benign and noncommittal.
However, that time, I looked him in the eye and replied, “Man, I might just make it after all!” He laughed, because he thought it was a punch line.
He didn’t know that I had been several months without any income at all; that even before that, what I was making wasn’t really enough. In fact, for the last decade or more, if I wasn’t underemployed, I was straight up unemployed. Of course, this gave judgmental people all the ammunition they needed to convince themselves that their predetermined disdain for me was justified. I knew who would talk. I knew what they would say, and to whom they would say it.
He didn’t know that over the years the light at the end of the tunnel had entirely disappeared; that I had even tried to light one of my own when I lost sight of it. It was like trying to spark a campfire in a rainstorm, having nothing to show for my efforts after my arms lost their strength but bloody knuckles and dirty hands.
He didn’t know that I had gotten to a place of deep desperation; that there were nights when I went to bed hoping that I wouldn’t wake up. Not because I was tired of living, but at least that way I could provide for my family with a life insurance settlement. That is until the insurance lapsed, because I couldn’t afford to make the payment anymore. Then a new flavor of panic set in, knowing that I couldn’t even afford to die.
He didn’t know how many times I would lie awake after another failed day of job searching, praying that my family, for their own sake, would pack up, and leave me behind; that I would silently crumble into wracking sobs, because I knew they never would. The feeling of becoming an anchor tied around their necks was becoming more, and more unbearable with each heartbeat.
He didn’t how many times I had wept in alone in my car; that I sometimes had to pull over, because I couldn’t see through the tears. Numerous times I had erupted in a rage, screaming at the God I had served my entire life, “I know you see me! I know you hear me! If you are trying to kill me, then GET ON WITH IT!”
But he also didn’t know that recently I finally did get a job; the kind of work I swore I’d never do again. Now that same work that causes my body so much agony at the end of the day is simultaneously healing my heart and mind. This is a trade I’ve learned isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was.
And he didn’t know that even after being hired, I still had to wait; that the panic began to set in anew for another three weeks.
But then it was gone. Things were beginning to change. I was a provider again. I was a man again. No longer was I the shadow I had become. No longer was my mantra “Don’t die today. Don’t die today. Don’t die today.” The sullen, grey husk of myself was filling with life again.
HE DIDN’T KNOW!
He just saw a stranger in a grocery store.
“How’s it goin’?”
“Man, I might just make it after all!”
I smiled. Because I was finally remembering how.
It felt warm.