“Gosh, maybe I should have stayed in newspapers, so I could get laid off and go to Hawaii for a week.”
That’s my old friend Gary, teasing me in an email. Gary Rice and I worked together at The Kansas City Star, then later at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and again later at the Wichita Eagle. He’s taught journalism at California State University at Fresno for years, since disappointment drove him out of newspapers.
He teased me after learning about my job loss, but also because he heard I’m going to Hawaii tomorrow. My wife and I planned it before the layoff, a celebration for her birthday.
I got laid off last month, so it might seem strange, or even stupid, to fly to the big island of Hawaii.
We bought the tickets for the plane ride and the tours months ago, though. We could have canceled, and got some money back. But sometimes you just need to say:
Over six days, we will snorkel and whale watch, and bike 15 miles down an active volcano to watch red-hot lava flows, and then ride all the way up to the peak of Mauna Kea to watch the sunset, and then look up to the Milky Way stars from an 13,803 elevation above the Pacific, during the Perseid meteor shower.
Nobody understands this better than Gary, who wasn’t chiding me, but cheering me on. He was my boss and reporting partner long ago, and was always nagging us to go further with a story than I’d intended.
He’s always believed in himself, believed in discovery, believed in adventure, believed in bigger and better and different. He used to live in my house years ago, earning the modest salary earned by most mid-level newspaper editors nationwide. And yet he flew nearly every other weekend to the Carolinas or California or Texas some such place to watch stock car races, where loud cars go VROOM, VROOM, and drive around and around in circles.
“How can you afford to do this?” I’d ask.
“How can I afford not to?” he’d say.
He liked stock car races, just as he now likes flying the world on his modest college professor salary to climb mountain peaks. When I told him we’re going up Mauna Kea, he said, as he usually does, that he’d been there before me. It’s hard to keep track of him, but I think he’s somewhere in the Chilean Andes right now, camping above 20,000 feet.
He thinks stock car races and mountain climbing are necessities, like food and Lone Star Beer. If he ever got fired and lost his income, he’d still climb in the Andes.
He’s wanting me to test myself, as he always wanted. I often resisted, but I have no choice about testing myself now.
Since my life got up-ended, everywhere I go now, I feel like I’ve got Janus walking with me. Janus was the Roman god with two faces, one that looked forward while the other looked back. He’s the god of beginnings and endings, of gateways and doorways, of time and transitions and dualities. He’s my god now, until I sort things out.
I feel competing temptations every day. Do I look back to the familiar, and find a safe job, with full-time benefits, and settle for the security I had in the past? Or do I face forward, bet on myself, put my future at risk, and pursue something I can like even if it pays little?
I can hear Gary, all the way from the Andes:
“How can you afford not to?”
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