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Monday, December 23, 2019


When I was a kid, there was a family in our town. Bad things happened to this family. There was a deadly chronic illness, and cancer, and a terrible accident, and more.

These were good people. Nice, smart, caring, good neighbors. Cool people. People you wanted to be around. Tall, slim, good-looking, erudite. Working class heroes. One disaster after another.

I remember standing in St. Francis Church during the funeral of one of the children. He was a couple years older than I. He knew he was going to die young. His disease name was hard to pronounce. I remember, during the funeral, thinking, this kid was smarter than me, cooler than me, better looking than me, more loved than I'll ever be. And he's dead.

The question: why?

As in Auschwitz, there was no why. These were good people. Yes, they lived in toxic Jersey, but we all lived in toxic Jersey. We all got cancer, too, but usually older. And it was more than cancer with this family. It was one lightning strike after another.


Friday I was making out Christmas cards. I took a break, checked emails, and learned that I lost my job. I've been teaching on the same campus for fifteen years.

I had just gotten this email from a student about a week ago.

"I want to say that this class was really cool actually! I'm really glad that I signed up for it and took it! You're an awesome professor and really made the class interesting! I know I stumbled a little bit near the end of it but I couldn't have done it without you. You're an awesome professor and really thoughtful to go out of your way and help calm your students like me when I was freaking out with random stuff. Thank you for a really fun class this semester."

And this email earlier in the month

"Thank you for everything... your teaching made me the person I am today."

I'm crushed.


Two answers.

The first answer is low enrollment. I am an adjunct. We have no job security. We are hired and fired on a semester-to-semester basis.

When the economy is good, enrollments go down.

But that's not really the answer.

I have a PhD, my dissertation is a prize-winning book, and I never got the security of a tenure-track job.

I was told I was the wrong ethnicity. I was told I wrote a "controversial, sensitive" dissertation. I was told I was "too right-wing." I was eventually told I was too old.

None of this politics would matter if there were fewer candidates for the available tenure-track jobs, but there is a glut of candidates. When a thousand people apply for one job your chances are slim, no matter your politics.

Adjuncts could tell you stories.

We are hired if we please our bosses.

I know an adjunct who was once in a car with her boss. Her boss said that America should be damned. Those words exactly. "America should be damned."

If the adjunct disagreed, she risked losing her job for the next semester. She did disagree, She is currently unemployed.

And then there are student complaints. Tell students they have to attend class with some regularity in order to get a passing grade? You will get complaints. The adjunct who put forth that demand on her students? Currently unemployed.


And then the weekend's second lightning strike.

As I've mentioned on this blog, in all the named pain of the past eight years, the two hurricanes, the four cancer diagnoses, the two deaths, the many surgeries, there was the nameless pain.

After a surgery three years ago, I was stricken with over-the-top pain. Torture-level pain. It comes and goes. I am not in pain most of the time. I am in fear of this pain most of the time. It's overwhelming.

I've been to about ten doctors. They all mean well but are limited. They can see me, evidently, for only about ten minutes at a time. They ask a few superficial questions. I'm no health care professional, but it's obvious to me that there are questions they should ask that they do not ask. Why do I have pain at some times but not others? I want the answer to that question.

I've been given many tests. No definitive answers.

Finally I did something I had been hesitating to do. I wrote to a world-famous man. He wrote a book about his own Christian faith and I sent him fan mail several years ago. We have kept in touch, on and off, ever since.

He is not primarily an author. He is, rather, someone who has some power when it comes to science and medicine. I described my symptoms and medical history to him. I begged for help.

He wrote back almost immediately. He contacted experts. He found a doctor in my state.

That doctor's office phoned me this morning to tell me when I'd be seeing that doctor. A few weeks from now.

Here's the bad news. The words "rare," "incurable," and "drugs."

What they think I have is, they say, rare and incurable, and it requires many drugs to treat.

Right now I feel like I've just been hit by a truck.

Mind: I've had this, whatever it is, for three years now, and in that time I've taught, and written, and published, cleaned house, cooked dinner, gone hiking, and dealt with horrific pain. Will it get better or worse? I don't know, and given that it's "rare," maybe they don't know, either. 

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

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