When plans go awry

Keeping it together in an increasingly cruel world

BRATTLEBORO — I grew up in a middle-class family.

We could pay for necessities as well as luxuries. If a washing machine broke, we ordered a new one. If an appliance needed repairs, we paid for it. We had two cars and could afford gas and repairs. We took a family vacation once a year. We had three solid meals a day.

In 2014, in this difficult economy, being middle class is no longer a certainty for anyone. Middle-class families cannot pay mortgages, and they lose their homes. Homeless people walk the streets, take shelter in churches, and get food from drop-in centers. Food prices rise steadily.

I see people here in Brattleboro standing in the wide renovated aisles of Hannaford with calculators in their hands and food carts one-quarter full. Workers pay 30 percent of their income to the government. Gas prices are out of sight.

Jobs are difficult to find even for persons with college educations and higher degrees. A neighbor has a son with an advanced degree in engineering who works for minimum wage in a Burger King because he is unable to find work in his field.

The government tells us that the economy is improving and unemployment is lower but does not take into account all those persons who have spent years searching for a job and have given up.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of the Treasury keeps on printing bills so a dollar is not worth a dollar anymore.

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Although I understand that nothing is fixed and everything alters each minute, although I understand that the individual balances like a surfer on a turning wheel, there is a tremendous difference between intellectual comprehension and a heart/soul/gut understanding.

You might have believed that you would be married forever and that you would grow old with the person you loved, but you now are divorced. You might have planned for three children but have had only one. You might have trusted a person you loved but have been betrayed, either emotionally or financially.

You might have worked for 30 years so you could retire on a decent pension, but your company went bankrupt. You might have had company stock in your IRA that lost all its value and now is worthless.

The bottom line is - as poet Robert Burns noted - the plans of mice and men often go awry.

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In spite of your best efforts and intentions, your dream did not materialize. What you did not expect happened; you were forced to deal with it.

Being forced to deal with a difficult circumstance you never expected feels like you are blindfolded waiting for the firing squad. One wants to rip off the blindfold and ropes and run as far away as possible.

What card did you pull from the deck? Are you having problems emotionally, physically, or financially? The question is how to deal with the card you hold.

Obviously, emotions interfere with the ability to make logical, rational decisions. It is useless to blame yourself for having pulled a lousy card from the deck. It is useless to review the past and blame yourself for decisions that led to the current predicament.

You must allow yourself to feel whatever you feel - anger, guilt, grief - and tell yourself that at the time you made the decision that had a negative result, you were doing the best you could with the knowledge you had at that time.

You must tell yourself that you have a right to any feelings you have and that you are a resourceful, lovable person capable of making wiser choices in the present.

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What can you do to make logical, wise decisions when you are under severe stress? What methods might prove helpful so you can remain calm and centered in spite of such stress?

Remember our grandparents telling us to eat healthy, to exercise, and to get fresh air. As hard as it is to eat healthy, you can choose to eat less meat and more grains and vegetables, to drink those eight glasses of water, to walk each day for 30 minutes, and to refrain from drinking, too.

Perhaps you are willing to try daily meditation or the Gabriel method, which is easy to learn and free. Perhaps insurance will cover consulting or therapy.

Friends and family members who can be trusted and to whom you can tell your truth are the most valuable asset. Just having someone to listen without judgment to what you are going through is healing and comforting.

The wheel continues to turn - and you continue to balance on it.

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