Just getting by
Published 1:40 pm Friday, May 15, 2020
Letter to the editor
Just getting by
The present time we live, the “now” of our existence, surely must be a very thin place indeed, one made more so by an unimagined pandemic we still don’t fully understand.
So what happens when life seems to turn against you, when things go wrong and all our markers of success suddenly dissipate? What happens if you follow all the rules, work hard, get an education, stay out of trouble, yet face a future made more uncertain each day? What if you now live in a world that can’t be fixed?
What if you suddenly are overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness? What if you’ve done everything “by the book” yet found out the book was never fair, that you’re never going to “make a difference,” be a “point of light” for others,” have even a part of the American dream of a good job, the possibility of a comfortable home, a loving marriage and family? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Forever stamp we could put on our lives for all this?
Let me plunge in by not offering myself as a model for success in this brave new world. Instead, let me recommend my parents as a better one.
I grew up in Texas in what USA Today described as two of the most miserable places in America to live, Willis and Pasadena. My family of six shared a single bathroom in an 800 square foot home. All my brothers piled into one bedroom with me. We had no air conditioning until well after I had moved out. My Mother only went to the sixth grade. Dad to the seventh grade. Through inconstant work like painting, carpentry, working on road crews, waitressing and taking in laundry, we cobbled together a life that forever resembled a Greek tragedy that never happened.
Even with so many markers of deprivation and a claim to poverty, our circumstances were no worse, and even a bit better, than everyone else around us. Our existence forever precarious and threatened, neither middle or lowered much by life’s ups and downs. We somehow just got by.
Today we live in a society that celebrates success by wealth, materialism and titles. Let me suggest that we honor those who are just doing ok, just getting by somehow in an increasingly complicated and unstable economic environment.
Like my parents, their lives probably involve intensive, even exhausting labor, uncertain outcomes, constant misfortune, shifting circumstances and adaptive individual abilities that shape that effort. They’re somehow just getting by. Theirs is a remarkable achievement that endures from generation to generation.
As my Mother once said, “What matters in life is that you did the best you could with the tools you had” even though the “tools” you’re given aren’t as good as those of other folks.
These days, just getting by should be celebrated as a success, one that makes us all proud.