Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Magnet

I was having terrible evening. It wasn't the worst evening of my life. But it was close. It was definitely in the top 10 of crappy evenings.

Jacob had died about a week before. Jeremy and I were reeling from that.

We were also having some financial struggles. Some of this was from complications from Jacob having cancer. We weren't dealing with medical bills because we had excellent health insurance. But there were other costs involved. Things you don't think about until you have a child with cancer.

Before Jacob was born, we had diligently built up our savings. That was gone now.

Additionally, there was something else going on that we didn't know at the time. The photography industry was basically imploding. We actually wanted to do photography work after Jacob died. We continued to do creative and lucrative assignment work. The problem was that there was less of this to go around. When an industry is disintegrating, it's difficult to know in the beginning. A lot of the awareness happens somewhat in retrospect.

The Internet that we know today was still in its infancy at the time. If this were happening now we would be more aware that we weren't the only ones struggling. Now I know that 50% of families where there is a childhood cancer diagnosis file for personal bankruptcy regardless of the outcome. Nearly everyone suffers negative financial consequences.

In other words, if I had known all of this back in 1999, perhaps I wouldn't be blaming myself for what was happening quite as vigorously as I was.

Jeremy came into our apartment carrying the mail. There was a letter from our health insurance company. It said that our monthly health insurance premiums would be doubling. You can imagine our response to this.

It had nothing to do with what happened with Jacob. It was industry wide. There were many people getting similar letters all over the city.

Jeremy and I are very resourceful people. We are glass half full, creative thinkers. However, in light of what just happened with Jacob, we weren't as proactive with this news as we might have been. We were sad and angry.

It felt like we'd just had a colossal run of bad luck. I might have felt entitled to sit around feeling sorry for myself, except that I really hate that feeling. It makes my skin crawl if I feel this way for too long.

I decided to call a family member who is also a very good friend. I talked with her for a bit. She was lovely with me. One of the nicest things she did was allow me to see that maybe I was being a bit hard on myself. She shared that this type of letter would be difficult for many people to deal with, not just people like us.

The next day the friend came over for a little visit. She brought me some gifts. I don't remember it so clearly. In my mind's eye I am seeing a blank journal with a decorative cover and two magnets. The magnets are the kind of thing you sometimes see sold near the cash register in a bookstore. They had quotes from famous people on them.

I liked all of the gifts very much. But one of the magnets had an incredible effect on me. Receiving this magnet was a seminal experience. The fact that this friend chose a magnet that seemed to speak so closely to my experience and to offer up hope at the same time – that was just what I needed.

This is what the magnet says:
I beg have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer… (Rainer Maria Rilke)
In the coming days, weeks and months, the magnet became a kind of lifeline for me. As I navigated life, with Jeremy at my side, the magnet did not live on the refrigerator with the other ones we had. I actually carried it around the apartment. It went with me when I fed baby Hannah. It sat on top of books I was reading and paperwork I did. It went with me to work. I needed it close by.

Months turned into years. It hasn't always been smooth sailing. But life is really good, even with the challenges of missing Jacob and other things.

Eventually, I stopped needing to have the magnet on my person. It's on the refrigerator in a prized spot, right above the shopping list. I refer to it often. I've also internalized it.

The other day, Hannah was talking to me about some feelings she was having. She's a teenager now and future planning is on her mind. I have something to show you, I said. I took the magnet from the refrigerator and handed it to her. She read the quote and liked it very much. It had a resonance with her.

You'll probably have more moments like this, I said. You may borrow this magnet whenever you like. But you must always put it back on the refrigerator when you're finished with it. You never know when one of us will need it again.

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