In January 2009, a few years short of retirement, my husband lost his job. The former boss wrongly accused him of misconduct, and thus, he was ineligible for unemployment. We were depleting savings we’d put away for retirement. On a windy, frigid day, our furnace broke. For the first time ever, we relied on Food Stamps. I hadn’t worked full-time for several years due to a degenerative disease. I’d lost my part-time work, too. Things looked very bleak.
Daily, we walked the neighborhood. We’d talk, turning over and over the experience of my husband’s job loss, looking for the bright side. The usual stop at that ever-compassionate institution, the Public Library, filled our arms with books, and we enjoyed the free warmth in that cozy space. We were lucky to have each other during this year of unemployment, which was not without some bright spots among the many trials.
Yet, one dark night in February 2009 when I couldn’t comfort my husband – and the gray day afterwards – will remain in my memory forever.
He woke up in wee hours, groaning as if he felt his heart breaking, so wounded by the cruel accusations he’d received when he was fired. I prayed aloud for him to rest peacefully, inwardly fearful he might have a heart attack. Close to four in the morning, he finally slept, mumbling fitfully in his dreams.
The next day, he stayed home from our walk to fill out job applications. My hood up to keep out the drizzling rain, I trudged on, feeling despondent. If I’d only kept my job! I would have to find a job, any job that I could do! I didn’t want to cry in front of my husband and add to his depression. Now I had a chance, but the tears didn’t seem to be releasing endorphins. It was the worst economy since the Great Depression. Other older Americans, like us, had lost their jobs, their homes—everything they’d worked for decades.
I approached a vacant lot where scraggly volunteer plum trees had burst into early blossom. Against the dark mounds of blackberry brush, bracken and twisted trees, the clouds of purplish pink were astoundingly cheerful. At that moment I remembered that these wild plums produce hard little fruit, which the birds love. Scripture came to mind: “Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
On Earth there’s abundant wealth created by God for us. We aren’t expected to earn it, even! I’m not sure why these plum blossoms had the power to re-illumine Scripture for me, but they did. I imagined all those merry birds, come summer, munching on wild plums to their hearts delight. Couldn’t I expect at least a bird’s worth of abundance? Darkness cracked, and sunshine fell on me with the rain.
Postscript: A few months later, my husband’s innocence was affirmed, his heart eased, and our family’s finances improved when he won his appeal for unemployment benefits.