It is good news to hear that unemployment has fallen, especially in the private sector. Apparently it is the sharpest quarterly drop in decade. It is also good news that more full time jobs are now in the offing for job seekers. At the moment it is news I savour from a distance. Ten months on and I am still looking for work. After several interviews and short-listings garnered from the 60+ applications submitted over those months, it is tempting to give in to despair and self-pity. No income or benefits coming in to help with the bills, just the occasional paid service I am able to render to the Church as a priest. So far my account has kept just a hair’s breadth ahead of the pack of wolves in hot pursuit. (Even for those in employment the costs of living continue to outstrip salaries – unless one is a CEO or works in the world of finance.) But I remain hopeful – and happy.
Paring down wants and consumption habits has had a salubrious effect at one level. I realise I can live well enough on the reduced expenditure incumbent on me at the moment. (Though it is a bug-a-bear when something goes wrong with the heating system in this cold weather and one slips more into credit having to sort it out, etc..) Mind you, it is not that I don’t occasionally indulge in a reverie of wistfulness about acquiring a new Apple laptop. But I now find that a cup of coffee at my local café while reading a book or writing in between job searching is a real joy. The glint of pristine sunlight also surprises me with its radiant laughter in a way that is somehow more emphatic these days.
Also, I am even more attentive to people walking along the high road and side streets: I notice their expressions, the worn looks some of them carry, the distracted airs and happy preoccupations. Increasingly I also pass individuals drawing courage and fortitude from cans of strong beer, carrying belongings in a supermarket cart, bloodshot eyes, resigned to the idea that life will bring nothing more their way. Their ‘Underverse’ is a secret presence beneath the indifferent rhythms of our own daily routines. In contrast I feel a pang of sadness at the bombardment from advertising and media promoting the idea that life is for the trim and the beautiful and wholly subsisiting in what you can buy. The Christmas story of hope and joy is reduced to a vision of brightly lit lorries with fairy lights and images of Santa delivering ample supplies of Coca Cola for the holidays. Magic! I am aware of an enhanced sense of bad taste the clichéd commercialising of Christmas leaves with me.
I do want to be in a better position to provide for my family and I have no otherworldly illusions about the darker realities of the bread queue: but the experience of the last 10 months has been gift to me in many ways. It has helped make me a better human being and, consequently, a better priest.
Above all, I am more aware that the best present we can bring to someone else is our own authentic and attentive ‘presence’. And you can’t buy that at John Lewis.
I guess that Apple laptop can wait.