Sunday, February 17, 2008

Unreal Test

Adam Shephard's test of the American Dream is nothing like my own except for one common factor - the reassuring presence of a safety blanket. Poverty and desperation cannot be simulated neither can someone from an affluent, educated background presume to be able to think and act like those who have not had those advantages. My recent post about different consumption patterns as seen from the vantage point of a grocery store checkout line is a riff on this theme.

When I decided to leave my ex and end a marriage that was self-destructing at an alarming rate, I had plan no for the future. J was about a month old. I had quit my job and gained over thirty pounds in weight. Instead of following conventional wisdom about appropriate next steps in my situation I was determined to experiment and make the best of the mess my life had turned into. I stayed home in India with J for a year and tried to loose the stubborn thirty pounds the best I could - it was the one goal that kept me form sliding into full blown depression. I persisted in looking for work in the States at a time when wave upon wave of Indian IT professionals were returning to India after being laid off from their jobs.

I found work in Bangalore but I had not given up on my goal of getting back to the US and raising my child in an environment where my marital situation would not become a social handicap for her. The opportunity came in the form of a two week business trip. One thing followed the other and in a few months I was working in America like I had wanted to. The next step was to bring J to live with me. Like Shephard, I had the credit card equivalent in my back pocket using which would signal the end of my "project"– I would go back home. I put away all of the money I had in an account for J that could not be touched because her future depended on it.

So I was forcing myself to start from scratch, scrimping and saving so I could give J the life she deserved. My goals were more ambitious than an apartment, a car and $2500 in saving at the end of the year but the underlying framework was not a lot different from Shephard's. I had education, ability to find work, good health (by God's grace), some savings, parents who were fully able to support me and J for the rest of our lives even if I never went back to work. I was simulating starting from zero of my own free will. There were no compulsions at all.

When people commend my courage and determination, or congratulate me on making it all work out despite the odds, I am compelled to say that a lot of that is not true and the praise mostly undeserved. Trying out a challenging experiment may need an adventurous spirit, it definitely does not take a whole lot of character or grit to turn in crisis to the escape hatch which is always ready and waiting. Whenever the chips have been down, I have found solace in knowing I don't have to do anything that I am doing, it is just a choice I made and that there is always home.

The encomiums belong to people who have no options, nowhere to turn to, have sunk so low that sinking any lower is no longer possible. Even with the odds stacked that heavily against them, they are able to rise and make a success of their lives. They are the heroes and should be writing about their experiences to be inspiration for others in similarly desperate situations. People like me and Shephard are pretenders. Our experimental experiences don't count for much - most of it is untranslatable to the lives and worlds of those who need to battle unbelievable odds without the benefit of a safety blanket. To posit otherwise is an insult to them.

No comments: