Those two words are the biggest lie of my life. (And the one that I’m the best at telling.)
And when I find myself uttering “I’m fine,” it’s usually within the same breath that I realize that I’m not.
I was surprised to find myself typing “we’re absolutely fine” in an email to my family a few days after the government shutdown resulted in the first missed paycheck.
On the one hand, it’s true. Joe and I are fortunate enough to be in a situation where a missed paycheck isn’t going to wreak havoc in our lives but we can both remember a time when it might have. Neither of us is so far away from the days of student loan repayments or carefully budgeting each dollar coming in. We can each still imagine with vivid detail what it might be like to work just a little bit harder to make ends meet. And because of that, it’s not so hard for us to empathize with others in the same boat who are sitting just a little bit closer to the edge. Compared to them, we are indeed fine.
But on the other hand, saying that “we’re absolutely fine” is a bald-faced lie. There are qualifications to our fine-ness these days. I’m prone to crying at inopportune moments because this situation picks at scars I thought were more healed than they are. I lay down at night wired and tired, wanting to sleep but finding it hard to get there. There are microscopic fissures forming in Joe’s normally calm demeanor. His disappointment is palpable — he continues to dutifully serve but wonders aloud if the country has turned its back on him… on us. We are tapping into our resiliency reserves.
One of the reasons Joe chose this career path was because the United States had always been there for him, had afforded him opportunities and freedoms not enjoyed everywhere in the world. The call to serve his country was a relatively easy one for him to heed.
And I came into all of this eyes wide open — Joe was already posted abroad when we reconnected and got married 11 months later. I knew that by choosing him, I too was choosing a life in service to our country (albeit in a very different way).
We’ve been talking a lot about our choice lately. About what we are willing to sacrifice and what we aren’t. About what it means to have skin in the game. And what it means to us — to this little family that we made together — that elected officials have willfully disregarded Federal law and ordered Federal employees to work without pay.
Here we sit in Belgium, a country that holds the world record for going the longest time without an elected government (in the Westminster sense), that has been called a “failed state” by serious journalists, and is the subject of endless memes about how it’s not a real country. But even during the 589 days without a functioning government, the day-to-day workings of the state continued. Civil servants came to work, served the public and were paid for their efforts.
And we wonder: is it that the U.S. can’t pay its civil servants or won’t?
So, to answer your question “are you alright?” We will be.