What would you do if you were able to suddenly empty out your desk and walk out of your office, without plans of ever returning?

The main character in my favorite book, “Miss Benson’s Beetle,” faced this situation, which gives us all something to think about in the age of the pandemic.

In the story, Miss Benson is a middle-aged British woman without adventure, fulfillment or much romance in her life. Ridiculed and belittled by everyone, she longs for a better existence.

One day, she finally reaches the end of her rope, and she walks away from her job to follow a childhood dream. She and a woman she befriends travel to a remote island on the other side of the world. There, they search for a beetle that had yet to be categorized by British scientists at the time.

Fortunately for Miss Benson, she has enough resources to make her trip. She also has no responsibilities, other than ones she made for herself. Not all of us are as fortunate as she.

But we should be.

Years ago, I left an OK job to do something different. I spent the next two years emptying my bank account and going back to school to study instrumentation. After I completed my education, I started a new career at which I instantly failed.

If you see me, and you want a laugh, ask me about my two-week employment at a potato plant.

Without savings, and having spent a couple of years out of the newspaper business, I was lost and took the first job available to me.

It was retail, and, though my workmates, managers and many customers were nice, many customers were not. I would come home every day for around two years feeling miserable, and I knew many of my co-workers were feeling the same way.

When the pandemic hit, things got even worse. Customers became combative over mask mandates and others seemed angry without any provocation. A few people regularly greeted me with expletives.

A lot of my co-workers responded productively to this mood shift, and they had advice for me. I should not take things personally, they said. Rather, I should continue to serve, keeping in mind the value I had to our community. We were essential, they said.

I tried, but was not able to keep their mindset. I was already disappointed about the direction of my life, and the new, angry attitude of others was not sitting well with me. It was also proving infectious. I, too, was getting angrier.

Besides, I had medically fragile family members, whose health concerned me. And I had a stepson who needed my help with his schoolwork.

Quitting my job to care for them was not easy. It involved tightening our belts a bit, but we were able to make it work because of my wife’s salaried at-home employment.

I proved to be an excellent caretaker. I cooked, cleaned and cared for my family. By sitting down with one of my stepsons throughout the day, every day, I helped him during a difficult transition to distance learning. He ended one semester of his schooling with a 4.0 GPA.

I did not miss work, but I did apply for available jobs. When a good job, which let me continue caring for my family, became available, I was able to accept it. It is the job I am doing now. Unlike less-fulfilling jobs, the work I am doing now makes me glad. As a response, I put my all into it. I am productive and a better member of our community, which I love more with every passing day.

I know other people who have changed their lives as we all struggle through the pandemic. They have questioned their course, and many of them have charted new ones. They discovered the fragility of life, the brevity of existence. They have reached for more.

For those people who have made brave moves, I applaud you. I also praise those of you who feel demeaned but genuinely have no escape. And I hope for a better world, wherein you have better options. In the meantime, you have my respect, my gratitude and good tips. Thank you.

———

Erick Peterson is the editor and senior reporter of the Hermiston Herald.

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