I called Stew this morning and told him thanks, but no thanks. I wished him good luck, and I meant it. Looking back over my history with Henry and his family I suppose there are lots of good reasons for me to relish their flaming out, but knowing what it’s like to face an uncertain future without prospects and suffused with self-doubt, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.
Besides the futures of many more people than just Henry and his family are at stake. Henry and Stew employ a lot of hard working and industrious people who depend on the success of the business every day. They’ll all be facing that uncertain future, and not because of anything they did or Henry did or didn’t do, but because a banker somewhere saw too much risk in a loan portfolio and decided to get rid of some of it. It hardly matters that the banker bought into the risk in the first place—that the bank is heavily invested in securitized sub-prime mortgages or over the counter interest rate swaps. It only matters what the numbers look like today and damn the lives and the hopes and dreams of real people represented by that risk.
We are, all of us to some degree, at the mercy of the computer models of speculators, MBAs, and math wizards—smart sumbitches ‘fiddlefucking’ around as Henry would say—who bring no value to the game. Rather they game the value of the poor dumb bastards who are doing actual work.
I’m already past the point of working this setback to my advantage. It’s obvious to me that I’m not going to get a job soon enough to be able to bank my severance as surplus. Under the best of circumstances it will be January before I get a job and February before I start work. By then my severance will have run out, but even that less than rosy scenario grows more and more unlikely with each passing day.
If I don’t get a job in January I’m going to have to move out of this house, this lovely neighborhood, by February 1st. That means I need to start thinking about where I’m going to live now. I don’t want to do that. It seems so defeatist. I’m trying to stay optimistic, but there comes a point where cultivating the optimistic attitude that helps you get a job just leads you down the path to disaster. Prayerful, trustful surrender—the Christian ideal—seems foolish under the circumstances.
I’m a devout Catholic. I pay attention to the homilies at
I read Scripture. I read and study theology. I have taught a survey of sacramental theology to teenagers preparing to be Confirmed in the Faith for six years. I know stuff. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I know more than most at least about what constitutes a proper Christian attitude in times of distress. ‘Let go and let God’ is the phrase that captures its essence. That is what I know I’m supposed to do. Unfortunately that sound theological advice is diametrically opposed to every bit of advice available from secular sources for the job seeker. The job boards and career coaches don’t want you to sit around in blissful hope waiting for God to show up with a basket of blessings. They want you to take a more proactive approach. They want you to set goals, to network, to circulate, to think outside of the box, to differentiate yourself, and to broadcast the message of your suitability to the widest possible audience. Mass.
I have tried to reconcile these points of view with another well known platitude: “God helps those who help themselves.” As platitudes go this is a good attempt, but somehow it fails to satisfy the thoughtful Christian. The obvious snag is that the more you help yourself the less trust you are putting in God to provide for your needs. The less trust you put in God the less generous are you likely to find His bounty. The platitude simply cannot be true. God does not help those who help themselves. Why would he? Those who help themselves help themselves. They don’t put their trust in God, else they wouldn’t be working so hard to make their own destiny. They just give God lip service. They are in fact lacking in sufficient faith to warrant much of God’s munificence. It’s a trick bag, a Catch 22.
Every shred of advice available to you and most of the anecdotal evidence suggests that succeeding or failing in this world is up to you. If you don’t do anything because you are waiting for God to do it and you fail, it’s your fault. You didn’t believe strongly enough, or you put what faith you have in a practice that has no validity, a god who does not exist—depends on your outlook, doesn’t it? If you don’t do anything and you succeed, you have to give God all the credit. That’s okay from the believer’s perspective, but all the non-believers rankle at the injustice of it—that you succeeded without any effort. If you don’t do anything to deserve success, well then you don’t deserve success. That’s the path to diminishing self worth. Let’s face it—it is hard as hell to trust in heaven. That’s why no one ever suggests that you actually do it…except in church…on Sunday…when God is listening. Any other time, it’s just not American, or practical, or sane.
The problem is even deeper than this, deeper than just having to decide at one point if you are going to trust God or trust your gut as it were, your instinct for self preservation. You have to decide constantly, and every decision you make undermines the essence of the sensibilities that support the other choice, the one you didn’t make. So you vacillate, first one way and then the other. The result is that you end up whipsawing yourself into a constant state of tension between personal crises of low self esteem and faith, between not believing in yourself and not believing in a caring God. You never see the positive side of either a life of spiritual peace or personal actualization.
I see myself at the end of this in tatters, one shoe sole flapping a syncopated jazz riff, the percussive accompaniment to an iconic, blues-infused, street life of poverty, meanness, addiction, and uselessness…and that’s the romantic outcome, at least provided there’s an occasional Aston Martin with a windshield I can wash. The more likely outcome, the one with all the hardship but without the romance and the sound track, is too depressing to contemplate.