BY JANA GERING
2014 brought an end to a job I believed in and worked hard for. I may not have been good at it, and it was far from perfect, but it carried a lot of meaning and hope for me. Rather than being a ramp to purposeful work, like I hoped it would be, 2014 brought six months of unemployment and a first attempt at antidepressant medication, which ended when my medical benefits closed with the job.
Now employed again, I have joined what is widely recognized as the 9th worst commute in the country. On this painful drive to work amid a sea of Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, Expedia, and other Bellevue tech corporate-types who have the gall to live in Seattle and work in Bellevue, I watch as state contractors break down the infamous “ramps to nowhere”.
The ramps to nowhere, a giant of a transportation plan taken down by the small, smooth stone of public protest, are Seattle lore. To me, passing under their silent, grass-grown ramparts in the earliest days of my new drive, they provided a picture of the rubble of meaning in my life—pathways that once had a purpose, a direction, were part of a bigger plan, a clear destiny, now topped by sun-soaked grass and wildflowers.
This is not to say that the ramps to nowhere don’t have meaning. It’s that their meaning is different than what their planners intended. Instead of being a monument to city planning and industry, they stand as memorials of protest. Instead of shortening commute times and creating efficient routes, the old neighborhoods and the Arboretum are intact.
I grew up under the impression my life had great purpose and meaning, as communicated by leaders, teachers, and parents. I staked everything on that idea, that there was a plan. At various times, I thought or assumed I knew what the plan was, but at age 35, my own “ramps to nowhere” seem to be multiplying. The time and work I’ve invested in projects and jobs and people, building up a pathway that I thought would lead to somewhere great, are standing as monuments to incompleteness.
The funny thing is that the other construction project on my commute is a new bridge, being built parallel to the toll bridge I pay nearly $8 per day to cross.
The new bridge is being built from both sides. Each day the ends of the bridge reach closer to one another across a mile-plus body of water, progressing by inches to a clearly-defined connection and purpose.
I wish that I could see myself more in that metaphor than in the one of ramps to nowhere. I wish I could say “opening in 2016, a new, effective, purposeful route to meaningful work.”
I longed for that while unemployed. Interviewing for hundreds of jobs, I still thought that perhaps there was a purpose in this period of unemployment, and even in the loss of the other work. I thought that the job that was “out there for me” would finally be a vocation where, as Frederick Buechner says, “our greatest joy meets the world's greatest need.”
It isn’t. I struggle to find purpose in my work, to find things to love about the prickly corporate rat-race.
On the other hand, there is—or was—something beautiful about the ramps to nowhere, with their wildflowers and grassy ruts leading up gentle slopes to quiet, car-less avenues. And there’s beauty in the Arboretum their sacrificed purpose protected, and the old craftsman houses and streets that carried on as quiet neighborhoods for 50-plus years in their sentinel shadows.
Photo credit here.