Things around here have been insane lately.
I have made the tremendously difficult decision to leave my PhD program for the time being–for a million reasons, but cost and practicality being two of the foremost. It’s broken my heart. I’ve defined myself by my desire to be a professor for so long that I’m not entirely sure who I am anymore. I feel like I’m letting down so many people, and I’m terrified to reveal my decision to my wonderful history professor at University College Cork who originally encouraged me down this path a bazillion years ago when I was a weepy, aimless college student in Ireland.
I’m in the midst of grinding out job applications and finding a new place for us to live. My husband has sunk into a deep depression about moving out of Canada, so I’m working out all the details of our move alone. The days are hard and the nights are so long.
But inevitably, my mind turns to all my immigrant ancestors, who left behind everything they had, everything they were, all of their dreams, their friends, and their homes, and came (blindly, in some cases) to America. Maybe they were like me, afraid to allow myself to think too far into the future for fear of disappointing myself down the road. Or worse: disappointing my husband. We’re not being chased by the spectre of famine or abject poverty, but being uprooted is being uprooted. It hurts, and when it stops hurting, there is regret. Regret can eat a person alive.
Jobs are so scarce in the States now. I am applying for teaching jobs, hoping I have a chance to find employment at least close to my field, but I know the first priority is to find ANY work, for the sake of the family. I am not too proud to pour people cups of coffee if it keeps us solvent for now.
I wonder what my great-great-great grandfathers Owen McCabe and Michael Gavin were good at? Did they have special talents? Were they singers or storytellers or magnificent stick-in-the-dust artists? What did they LOVE to do? Did they dream of being explorers or locomotive engineers or musicians? I may never know. And that makes me a bit wistful. The only activity I know occupied most of their waking hours was their work as day laborers.
They could have been composing gorgeous, lush stories in their minds to tell their children before bed while they slung their heavy picks and shovels, digging, digging, all day long. As they laid down mile after mile of railroad track in the blistering summer sun and the painful winter cold, they could have been dreaming up melodies so beautiful their wives would cry upon hearing them. I don’t know. Maybe they were strong enough to keep close who they really were as people despite the thankless work they did. I hope so.
I hope so, because that means I have a chance, too. Maybe I can still remain true to the essence of me, even as I ask you whether or not you want whipped cream on your white chocolate mocha.