Sunday, December 12, 2010


Here I am:  age 60, bad knees, cranky, and overweight.  I wheeze a little when I walk too fast.  Who would give me a second look, much less an undeserved second chance at anything?

I've known people who always seem to land on their feet, no matter what happens.  Employers call them out of the blue and offer them jobs.  When the bank account gets low, they get an unexpected check in the mail.  People just can't stay mad at them for long because they are so likeable.  No matter how many mistakes they make in their work, they can't help but be successful and make money.  Lots of money.

And then there are people like me.  I've never been able to make it on my looks or my wit.  I survived by showing up every day.  When an assignment was made, I actually read the book.  I learned to plan because I didn't like the feeling of being unprepared.  Plan, work, stick with the job no matter what barriers or discomforts are in the way. 

All I have ever known in my life is work.  I remember being in the garden with my mother when I was a  little girl, helping her pull weeds and talking about how I'd learned in school that at Jamestown those people who didn’t work weren’t allowed anything to eat. Once when my mother told me to bring in a bucket of coal for the stove, I jokingly (or so I thought) asked how much that would be worth.  My mother (not jokingly) explained that we did not get paid for doing work in her household.  

My first formal job came in high school when I had a summer job as a waitress at a restaurant, only one of many jobs that taught me humility.  I managed to work a sufficient amount of time to earn enough money to pay for my senior class ring. I don’t remember specific lessons that made me think that I couldn’t have things unless I worked for them, but somehow those lessons were branded on my consciousness from the very beginning of my life. I don’t know who did it or how it happened, but there it is. I don’t remember being petted and spoiled (even though I am the baby of the family) just because I was precious. I remember having to prove my worth.  My motto has been, "Here.  Let me do it."

I get nervous when I think about not working. I think about not having enough money to pay bills or shop the outlet malls. Do I have ample clothing to last me the rest of my life? Can I use my current car until I die? Am I worth anything at all if I’m not working? Do I have any value as a human being other than what I can produce? Does my existence on earth have value in and of itself?

Not long ago I found myself sitting in a surgeon’s office, contemplating life and rolling the dice. The big C.  A few years ago when I was editing a student literary publication, a young man submitted a poem that contained the line, "Sometimes tomorrow is not another day."  Yep, after committing my life to work (and I don’t mean a career, I mean just work—like doing laundry, cleaning the toilets, carrying luggage for someone who’s having trouble doing it, digging up garden plots, editing someone's letter of reference), I asked some difficult questions about my worth. 

I decided to retire from my job.  It doesn't mean I'm giving up work.  It means I'm getting a second chance.  Despite all the mistakes I've made in my life, there have been many second chances given to me.  I received a second chance when the small cancer was treated and no other cancers were found.  When I've made others angry, sometimes they didn't' forgive me, but some gave me that second chance.  From the moment of my birth, God has looked down on me with mercy and said, "Janet, I forgive you.  Try again."   

My retirement is a second chance.  I can re-train my focus away from a formal job to work that I enjoy and find productive.  There will continue to be mistakes.  How could there not?  This is my tomorrow, though, another day, a second chance to try again through the mercy of God.   


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