Caregiving, Essays and Opportunities in Disguise
Three minutes too late. I clicked the submit button with the force of a jackhammer. Submit, hurry, hurry, hurry. As if the keyboard had the power to reverse time's forward march. With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, the realization seeped in that the computer clock read 11:58pm. Another opportunity missed. Was this it? Did I just see my chance to be a VOF Correspondent waft away? Did I just shoot my own foot with regards to making the cut?
For a few minutes, I just sat there nursing feelings of anger, frustration and disappointment; coulda-shoulda-woulda's swirling mightily in my brain. “Is it always going to be this way?” “Did I have a choice?” “How could I have done it differently?” “Why didn't I work on this sooner?” “Serves me right for waiting till the last minute” “I could have just said no.” Eventually the pendulum started swinging from self-criticism and judgement to acceptance and gratefulness that I did what was most important—caring for my sister's children while her husband took her to the emergency room for the umpteenth time this year.
It also made me wonder—how many women in the world "give up" "miss out" on opportunities that would be personally very satisfying and beneficial because they find themselves caring for others? My hunch that it was in the millions upon millions proved correct. According to a 2004 study funded by the Met Life Foundation, there are about 44 million unpaid caregivers in the United States, close to 2/3 of them being women.
If this is true for the US, then surely it's true for all countries – or even more so in other countries – where women contend with widespread poverty, war, cultural restrictions, political and religious persecution on top of having to deal with the challenges of every day life.
Quoting the study:
People who care for adult family members or friends fulfill an important role not only for the people they assist, but for society as a whole. While this care is unpaid, its value has been estimated at 257 billion dollars annually. Although caregivers make many contributions, being a caregiver may take a personal toll.
My experience as a caregiver has been profoundly satisfying, life changing, demanding and exhausting. It has also been a costly one in terms of personal finances, relationships and dreams. Some examples come to mind: no paid work for over a year, not seeing my husband, the rest of the family and friends very much, and missing the deadline for the last essay for the VOF Correspondent position.
Writing is difficult for me, it takes me a really long time to be able to put my thoughts down on paper, and for most of my life it’s been my nemesis—the one thing to avoid at all costs. This year of caregiving changed writing for me though. I started writing to process the daily bread of difficult situations we were facing and found it to be helpful and healing. Then I started realizing that writing is the one tool at my disposal that can be leveraged and would help me greatly in communication my vision and life’s work. With this realization, I decided to make honing my writing skills a priority which made the VOF program a golden opportunity.
On October 3rd, the last assignment of the VOF competition was due and I had arranged my schedule that week to have a few sacred hours to write the essay. My sister hadn’t been feeling very well that day and by the evening it was apparent she had to go to the ER so she asked me if I could watch her little girls (11 months and 3 years). Choices. Priorities. Decisions. I said yes to her knowing that it might mean saying no to finishing up my assignment in time.
It was one of those evenings where the girls just needed attention. Getting the little one to sleep took a while, and Mom going to the hospital yet one more time was just too much for the 3 year old’s little heart. Tears would only be quelled by cuddling on the couch and reassurances that her Daddy would be home soon to pick them up. Fortunately my sister received the attention she needed—and I still had an hour to write my essay. Hurry, hurry.
But the post refused to be hurried. How can one rush when talking about the vision for our life, community and the world? Impossible. So I surrendered and let what wanted to be written get written. As I watched the words appear, it dawned on me that the way the evening played out was an example of living out my life vision—creating a world where children grow up healthy, happy and loved—starting with the little ones in my life.
Living my vision isn’t glamorous, but it’s real and it’s mine. And I claim it and receive it. I accept the here and now and choose to be content with simply doing my utter best. In this, I have found enoughness and peace.
While I still hope to be considered for the program in spite of the missed deadline, I’m not going to lose sleep over not making the cut if it doesn’t happen. I’m just going to keep on writing… readying myself for another chance next year. Besides, the very process of applying was in and of itself an opportunity in disguise that has already produced amazing results in my life—crystallized my life vision, connected me with amazing women, and helped me to dare share my written thoughts in a public venue for the first time ever!
I’m curious, though, about the experiences of other VOF applicants. What sorts of obstacles got in your way as you were completing this assignment? What was the key to overcoming them? And if, like me, you weren’t able to finish the assignments in time, are you at peace? What lessons did you learn? What gifts did you receive in the process?