Monday, October 22, 2007

The ant and the grasshopper

Are you familiar with the story of the ant and the grasshopper? How the ant spent all summer working to prepare for the winter and the grasshopper did nothing and eventually had to depend on the ant for help?

My best friend from college and I were always known as two grasshoppers - jumping around all summer singing and playing the fiddle thinking "fiddle dee dee - tomorrow is another day". (we were the Scarlett O'Hara of grasshoppers). I spent much of my life like that - not paying bills on time, jumping from job to job, house to house, boyfriend to boyfriend and pursuing happiness.

I got serious after my mother died. I decided to get a job with health insurance and develop a career. So I've spent the last ten years in love with the idea of the ant within me. I focused hard on my work and I spent a lot of time sacrificing things for my career. Now a grasshopper's habits die hard so I still struggled with my bills, I still struggled with committing, but not with my job. To my job I was faithful and true.

I saw my fellow grasshopper this week. She's married with two kids and happy and full of energy. She's not the grasshopper she was in the past either. But we drank our way around Amsterdam and laughed and gossiped like the good ole days. I went back to work reluctantly but still in love with the idea of trying to make it happen.

On Friday, I received news that a new colleague had died. I had met him several times. I'm new to this organization but it didn't take long to know about K. He was a loud, funny, smart Greek man who had gone from shipping engineer to Greenpeace organizer to Operational manager at MSF. He always had a cigarette in his hand, a big smile, and hug for everyone, and was always the life of the party. I saw him about two weeks ago in Berlin where I went for the annual planning session. He seemed tired, the sparkle faded. He seemed anxious, his hands were shaking, and he didn't look well. He confided to my colleague and I that he just wasn't himself. Another colleague told me that he though K needed to take a vacation - a long vacation to go home and see his wife and child.

On Friday, we heard that he died alone in the apartment he was living in Berlin. He had stayed home sick and when no one could get in touch with him, they had the police break the door down and found him. When the news was delivered on Friday afternoon, the entire office was shocked. Some of the most macho people there wept openly. No one could believe it was true. All I could think of was how stressed out he looked in Berlin and how sad it was that he died alone in a strange city far away from his loved ones.

I moved to Amsterdam, in a way, to get away from the very "Ant" friendly city of Washington DC. I had hoped that a move away would make it easier to go home early, pursue hobbies, meet a boyfriend, maybe start a family. But old habits die hard. The past six months have been amongst the most stressful months of my life. Rather than using that time to really break all the old modes, I've replicated them here. I don't want to die alone in five years (for K. was only five years older than me) in my apartment from work-induced stress. I think I need to make a change - retain some of the good of the ant but find some of the grasshopper from my twenties.

1 comment:

  1. Such a heartfelt post. Take care of yourself. Being care-free and being responsible is such a fine, I find. By the way, when the time comes for you to get married, I want to be a bridesmaid!! :-)