Day Five – Looking Ahead

Missoula, Montana to Olympia, Washington. 515.1 miles. 8 hours 25 minutes on the road. 117 songs.

Danville, Pennsylvania to Olympia, Washington. 2,828.8 miles. 45 hours 43 minutes on the road. 628 songs.

Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. At 8:00 AM I’m due at Thurston County Title to sign some paperwork for my new house. I’m not sure exactly what I’m signing, just that it needs to be processed or reviewed or something before I can close later in the day. Jeff, my mortgage guy and Kelly, my realtor have been terrific in helping me pull this off long distance, so in return I basically sign anything they put in front of me. Honestly, at the end of the day tomorrow I could have a townhouse, a KFC franchise, and a 2-year hitch in the navy.

I need to buy a futon to sleep on until my stuff gets here this week or next. A trip to the supermarket for some food and essentials. There’s a quilt store in Olympia – going to stop there to pick up brackets to hang the quilt My Bride made for my new home (I told you she was still my best friend). Walk Hugo around our new neighborhood. Clean out the car. Not set an alarm.

There are a dozen odds and ends to take care of getting settled in a new state, and I’m lucky to have a few weeks to see to them and get settled before I start my new work. I’m a nurse, and it’s a profession that allows for a pretty wide range of options. If you’re adaptable, you can usually find work wherever you go. I’ve been a nurse for twenty years, so health care employers can make a pretty safe bet on my stability in the field. I was hoping to find something not too far outside my comfort zone that would pay the bills. Instead, I was able to find work that was challenging and deeply meaningful to me: hospice nursing. Yes, it’ll be stressful, but this is exactly the reason that I got into nursing in the first place: to help patients and their families in difficult times, and to serve my community.

So after spending my adult life lacking something in community, work, or stability, I find myself flush with all three. So, what’s the lesson to The Knucklehead as he’s facing his final year of college and trying to figure out what’s next?

* * *

We want to tell our kids to follow their dreams, and I think that’s exactly right. Life ought to be looked on as an opportunity to find happiness and fulfillment, and that often takes perseverance. Where I think we miss the mark is to somehow convey that there’s a guarantee out there that wanting something enough eventually means getting it. “All you have to do is work hard enough,” we tell our kids, because we don’t want to face a reality with them that life often doesn’t reward hard work, at least not with what you might be striving for. But if we concede that striving isn’t enough, are we telling them that to dream is futile? Or worse, cruelly misleading?

I’m now in a position to embark on the life I want for myself, and hard work certainly helped get me there. I built a solid resume in nursing over twenty years of work. I’ve achieved enough financial stability to allow me to make this move because I’ve saved and dug myself slowly out of a lot of debt. I did that. That’s mine, and I’m proud of that.

But I also had a lot of help. My Bride helped me get here today. Friends did. Family did. Professionals in all walks of life were available to help me make this move. Luck played a part, and, yes, privilege. Can I point to the times that being white or male gave me an edge? No, but it’s naïve to suggest that those weren’t powerful forces in my favor in 21st century America, whether I sought that privilege or not. Does that detract from my own contributions? Not a bit. But it does keep me humble, and grateful for where I find myself today. And eager for a chance to open more possibilities for others.

For years I didn’t feel like I “had it all,” the tyrannical demand we make of our children. My advice to The Knucklehead is this: you will surely find yourself in that situation. Here’s what to do: find something in your life meaningful that sustains you when other areas of your life can’t. Don’t think of yourself as a failure if your job isn’t your dream job, or you haven’t found the ideal mate, or you’re in a town or community you don’t feel a part of. That’s not failure, that’s part of life. You’re going to have at least one terrible job in your life. That doesn’t mean you dropped the ball in following your dream, it just means you live in the real world. Accept it while you need to, but don’t believe the lie that it’s permanent. During that time, find something else in your life that gives you sustenance. For me, it was you, being your dad. That’s still the single greatest success, accomplishment, and joy of my life. When you left for college, I turned to writing, and that sustained me. You won’t ever have it all, and that’s not your fault or laziness, that’s just life. Find a relationship, an avocation, a hobby, a calling, volunteer work, find something to help you through the droughts. And plan for plenty. Even if it looks hopeless, keep yourself in a position to take advantage if luck falls your way. Like it did for me.

Plodding away at a soul-sapping job? Plod away. There’s dignity in that. There’s virtue in facing what’s in front of you with grace. But find something else to put your soul into. And never think you’re trapped. I thought I was for a long time. I was wrong.

* * *

What’s ahead for me? Happiness, I hope. Washington isn’t perfect. Check back with me six months from now and I’ll be able to tell you all about the stress of work, the grey weather, the traffic, a hundred other things. Could this move be a mistake? Sure. I don’t think it is, but I can get blindsided by emotion as well as anyone. But if it is a mistake, it’s my mistake, and that I can handle. I’m too old to expect guarantees. But I’ve also learned to try to find the good stuff that life throws you now and then, wherever you are.

And in the short term, I have lots of stuff to look forward to. Looking for a new home pub. Hiking with my dog on Mt. Ranier. The optimism that comes with a new job, especially one I’m eager to learn from. My first Left Coast concert – Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs in July. A Mariners game.

And New Year’s with My Knucklehead.

“The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.” – Maz Kanata

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