Harvest Moon Bounty: for the unemployed
When the ambulance bay doors opened, all I could see at first was red: spatters of crimson on the uniforms of the EMTs, scarlet droplets making a trail on the floor as the stretcher flew by me. A local tree cutter had taken a fall and suffered a skull fracture. The speculation was that he may have died of brain laceration. With no identification on him, for a few long hours, he was our John Doe. While phone calls were made, the nurses cleaned his broken body with care and respect, preparing to present him to the family that was sure to come. There, but by the grace of God go I, Mr. Doe. What thoughts, adventures, loves and hates resided in that beautiful grey matter of yours? What brilliant sights and imaginings did you experience there, in the treetops, in a place that most of us have never seen? Are they gone? Gone forever? When you woke up that morning, I am guessing that you never dreamt your life would end this way. Over the decade I worked as a patient liason, I saw many deaths and near deaths, moving through the treetop like world of the emergency room. Each ending rips away a piece of that illusory veil of security we all wrap ourselves with so tightly. Nothing makes you appreciate life so much as seeing death so close at hand. Pediatric cases were the worst. On a bad day, those of us with children would take pause, whisper a prayer or make a surreptitious call to the babysitter. That night, we’d be holding our families close.
In 2009, I lost my job at the hospital two days before the Harvest Moon festival. This is the second most important festival of the year for my Chinese ancestors. A time to gather one’s bounty and prepare for the hard winter ahead. We Chinese, we work hard and persevere. While the hospital prepared for winter by cutting its budget, my own bounty mischieviously dissolved, like a moonbeam in my outstretched hands. As far as my American ancestors were concerned, I can still recall hearing my grandfather talk about finding job after job during the Depression. How he would talk his way through an interview and then go home to frantically study books, instructing himself in his newly acquired expertise. “On the job training,” is what he called it. At least it paid the bills.
Calling upon all that my mixed up Eurasian heritage could muster, I understood that my bounty is here, in me, stored within the squishy grey matter of my brain. Here in my willing hands. Here, in the viscera of my eyeballs, taking in the sights a millisecond at a time. My intricate constellation of neurons continue firing away, busily working whether or not I punch in at the timeclock. What else do I have? I AM my bounty. The storehouse keeps filling: your cells soak in the happenings, osmosing an atmosphere of colors and flavors, loyally documenting your cellular history and the cumulative effects of life. Then one day, with a quiet pop or in a soft, silent shift, illumination happens. You apprehend something. Even if it’s just one thing. As Mencius said, Ten Thousand things are in you…. in any one man’s mass of gray matter housed, miraculous, within his head. Is it disrespectful to compare a death with a layoff? Indulge me. After all, I was terminated. Eliminated. Let go without warning. There is something darkly finite about severance pay. I know I’ll be okay until this date. I know I can pay the mortgage until this date. I know I can put food on the table until this date. It’s terminal. Having that date of finality engenders a level of squeamishness in one’s bowels, akin to a CPR in progress. In September, 2009, the 15.1 million unemployed Americans and I collectively learned that all things must come to an end. As Muriel Barbery so elegantly expounds in her novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, our “biological destiny” awaits us all. Maybe I was being dramatic. There would be other jobs, wouldn’t there? That’s what Grandpa would say. Would he say it if he knew we only need about 15 million of them to go around? What will our “economic destiny” be? Then there is the existential question: did my work have meaning, to be ended so abruptly? Did I, Jane Doe, make any difference at all? Aye, there’s the rub.
After being home a good solid week, I kept telling myself to stop and breathe, to look and to listen. To transition out of the fast paced state of hypervigilance that that had become my daily modus operandi. I gave a generous tip to the barista at Starbucks, knowing I’d be cutting back on my visits there. I gazed enviously at the toll booth collector’s uniform – he was gainfully employed. Nonetheless, intent to wonder, I looked into the eyes of my then twelve year old son, over a slow, unrushed dinner. I listened to the deepening voice of my fourteen year old son, resonant with the fast approach of manhood. I took in a deep, refreshing drink of my daughter’s eyes that flashed at me in laughter. It only lasts a moment. All of it. A day. A job. A life. A loved one. My bounty is in this.
As of September 2012, the nationwide unemployment rate is 12.1 million.
I was grateful to find rewarding employment after several months, back in 2009. Dedicating this post to those who are currently searching for work.
Images by me.