March 25, 2012
Many of you have been asking for an update, but now that the story is my story, it is not so easy to write. However, it is time to finally break my self-imposed silence, if for no other reason than the fact that writing gives me peace. You may have wondered about my silence; I wondered why my words would not flow.
During my close-of-service conference last August, the facilitator led a session on the difficulties of readjustment. At my medical exit exam, the doctor presented me with vouchers for counseling services. I remember scoffing at these implications that readjustment would be a challenge. After all, I was returning to America, the land of opportunity and abundance, including luxuries like electricity, water, internet, cars, movies, shopping malls, even trash pick-up. How tough could readjustment be?
What I failed to consider was that the readjustment I imagined was based on my old life, and now that life was gone. Maybe once you have followed “the road less traveled by,” it is impossible to ever really return to a more familiar path.
In my eagerness to return to America, I did not think about the implications of having no home and no job. In Africa I lived among the poor, but I was never really one of them. Now things are so different. I have seen another side of America. Milling about community job fairs, I have seen the fear in peoples’ eyes. Standing in line for a resume review, the middle-aged woman ahead of me poured out her story along with her tears. Without a job soon, she would lose everything. I could feel her despair but I had no words to comfort her. I, too, was traveling through a foreign land.
I suppose I was better off than most. I had a place to stay and food to eat, although it is quite humiliating asking my elderly mother for gas money. But I wonder about those who do not have family or friends to help them. What do they do? I know being unemployed deprives you of energy and strength, and the fear can be debilitating. How easy it would be to give up hope.
Although my spirits were as gloomy as the gray New England days, I pushed myself to search for jobs. I attended job fairs. I searched on-line. I carefully crafted cover letters and sent out resumes. I assume that most were deposited into the circular file in cyberspace after being electronically scanned for some cryptic keywords that were not there. I had thought my faith was strong, but there were moments when I called out, “Where are you God? Why have you abandoned me?” Then one day, his response popped into my head, “I am here. Trust me!” and my anxiety about my situation diminished considerably.
I was sure that eventually I would find a job, but I wanted more than just a job to earn money. I wanted a job which would allow me to continue, in my small way, to change the world. I did not want easy. I did not want safe. I wanted satisfaction for my soul. Part of me wants to return to Africa, but just as the professor said in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “you cannot go back the same way twice.” I’ll find another way some day, but for now my work is here.
Finally, after six months of unemployment, the job search has come to an end. I attended a job fair in Washington, DC and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had options. I contemplated the idea of working at the all girls National Cathedral School. Imagine attending worship services in that gorgeous cathedral during the school day! But when I compared it to the opportunity of working at a public charter school in downtown DC, a school described as tough but not violent, I knew that these were not the girls that God intended me to serve. When the recruiter talked about the charter school, it reminded me a bit of a Tanzanian school. I felt I could be happy there, but despite its tug on my heart, I turned down that opportunity as well. I chose instead a teaching position at a new, public, all girls leadership academy in Raleigh, North Carolina. It offers the challenges and the opportunities to make a difference that I crave, and I already know the environment.
Although the job search is officially over, I will not actually begin earning a paycheck until the end of August. I will be moving to Raleigh in May so that I can attend planning and team building meetings for the new school. Hopefully I will stay with my son for most of the summer, but I may get the chance to become a nomad, bunking down wherever I can. I look forward to the day when I will once again have a place to call my own, (or better yet, to share with my mom).
So my adventures are not over yet. In fact, they are just beginning again, in a new place with new people. I cannot wait!