At 59 years old I, Trudie Nash, became a statistic in our nation's downwardly spiraling economic nightmare. For 37 years I worked as a high-school English teacher here in Greenville, S.C.
Most teachers feel that ours is a secure job; there will always be children and children will always need teachers, right? Wrong. That may have been the way I used to think, until a little monster called budget cuts decided that there was one teacher the children would have to do without -- me.
The rumors floated around the school for weeks. Four people had to go. Speculation was rampant in the teachers' lounge about who they would be. Because I was never an insider in lounge affairs, I paid no attention to the rhetoric. Besides, every year around contract time the rumor mill would busily spit out this same fearful report.
So on a crisp April morning, I walked into the snare of the fowler, completely unaware. I felt pretty good that day -- several students from my drama class had won statewide honors for a play they had written. It was a great honor that received almost no attention from anyone at our school, but for some reason I chose to ignore this obvious slight.
The moment of truth
The sign in the office said, "Pick up contracts in Kathy's office," but when I went to Kathy's office there was no contract for me. "You need to talk to Bill," was all that she said.
"OK, heart, slow down, smile and walk out gracefully." My internal instructions did little to settle my fears. Bill Roach, our principal, was a young man I admired and got along reasonably well with; surely he won't let me go, I thought.
The search for Bill was difficult. He was never in his office and did not answer my e-mails. Well, I thought, I can read the writing on the wall; I must be one of the four. On that day I settled in my heart that if I had to go, I would go out in faith and in style. Later that afternoon, Bill apologetically entered my room to let me know that I would not be given a contract for the next school year. I wasn't even going to be cut loose with the opportunity to work somewhere else, I was being put out to pasture. "Retired" is what he said, "fired" is what I heard. After a hug and some reminiscences about our years together, I smiled and said, "Well, now I will learn if God is really my source."
I was frantic. By the end of the school year I had no idea what I was going to do. I wasn't old enough to get money out of my annuity accounts without a penalty, and I was too young to sit around and do nothing. I had no money to travel or study with, and I had no job. What was I to do? I decided to do nothing. If I ignored it, maybe unemployment would go away.
I enjoyed the summer, but as it got closer to the opening of the new school year, I knew that I needed a job. The first thing I did financially was apply for unemployment benefits. I didn't feel the $60 a week they awarded me was worth the frustration or the embarrassing questions and long lines. My first time ever asking for any assistance let me see firsthand the difficulties other people faced; I felt badly for those who were really out of work.
I didn't have a job, but I did get a retirement check. Why wasn't I satisfied with being retired?, you may wonder. Why am I writing about my unemployed life? Well, retirement assumes that you have enough money to live on, without worrying how to make ends meet. When you don't have enough money or the means to make those ends meet, you are unemployed. Thus, I am unemployed. I signed up for work as a substitute teacher. Sixty dollars a week from unemployment, my retirement stipend and my occasional substitute assignments helped me make it through these first months of unemployment.
My life now
One of the most surprising things to come out of this new phase of my life called unemployment was the realization that I didn't miss the classroom. In fact, I realized that the security that teaching had offered me had stifled me and kept me from going after other things I wanted to do -- things I had a passion for and the talent to explore. Unemployment made me more dependent on my husband, who works in his own business as a carpenter, and believe it or not, our relationship improved. Together we made a budget that I had to stick to.
Being unemployed reopened my passion for writing. I entered essay contests, joined a writing group at the library, e-mailed political pundits that I found incorrect or offensive in their views, and completed work on a book of poetry.
The life of the unemployed is a difficult life. It is a life filled with fear and lack. It is not a good life because so much of what we value and need in life is connected to our jobs. My unemployed life has, however, taught me to believe in myself and to trust God. I now look for work in the fields of journalism and broadcasting, fields where I've always wanted to work. Although I need the kind of money I made while teaching, I am appreciating what I can do with the money I have. And finally, yes, I did learn that God is my source. A typical day begins with me reading the Bible and praying. From there I've learned that the sky is the limit.