It’s been just over two months since I was laid off from the newspaper. In the meantime, we’ve nearly gotten through another round of holidays, and now it’s New Year’s Eve again.

When 2008 began, I had no idea that by the time it ended, I’d be drawing unemployment benefits and wondering what the next act of my life might be. In that first week or month, everyone I knew who had ever been through a similar crisis echoed the same words: In a year or two, you’ll look back and think this was the best thing that ever happened to you. 

In some ways, I’m already feeling they may be right.

I have come to think of this as my permanent sabbatical. Not a vacation, not a punishment: simply a stage of life where I can do only the work I want to do, rather than the work I must do. Nobody is my boss, and only I can decide what assignments I will take. Anything I choose to do as a freelancer, I do on contract.

Several such opportunities now are presenting themselves for the new year, and I will be happy to try them out. I’m fortunate because I needn’t work unless I want to — or so my husband Steve, aka my personal financial wizard, informs me. But I like to write, and people still seem to want me to write, so I think I’ll keep doing it for pay now and then. It is, after all, the only thing I am actually qualified to do.

The funny thing is that, even without paid work to do, I haven’t been a bit bored.  I have had time to do things I like to do, or need to do, or want to do. On some days I might do nothing much at all — and after 31-plus years of working full-time, that’s been a lovely luxury. Better than a day at the spa, truly.

Just doing errands, housework, laundry and dishes are enough to keep me reasonably busy most days. I’ve been making dinner almost every evening, a development my husband frankly thinks is quite delightful. He’s never before had a wife who had time for that kind of thing.

Our two lives at the newspaper have been pared down to one, and our usual harried pace has been halved as well. That’s given me the space to make both of our lives more measured and peaceful.  And I cannot say this is a bad thing, because I have discovered that I actually enjoy going through recipes, shopping for ingredients and trying out new things for dinner.

My spouse, bless him, dutifully eats any meal I set in front of him. He used to be a lot pickier about what he felt like having for dinner. But now he knows that this is my job, and I’m doing my best to feed him things I think he will like. And so far, fortunately, nothing I’ve made has been a total bust.

I did a lot of Christmas baking this year, something I had not done since our daughter (who is now almost 30) was small. Our granddaughter, who just turned five, helped me with the sugar cookies. Yesterday I made cupcakes for her birthday dinner. I’ve never had time for that before, and I liked having time for it.

There is time to eat a simple lunch on a tray while I watch reruns of Lost, the TV series to which I am an abject slave. Time to meet friends for lunch… to watch old movies on TCM… to read or re-read good books… to take a nap once in a while. Time to think about my own novel-in-progress.

And there has been time for our friend Eric Nelson, a marathon runner who is in outpatient rehab therapy after being hit by a car two months ago and left in critical condition, with two broken legs. He’s doing very well now, working through the pain and aiming not just to walk again, but to run again. To run a marathon again, in fact, with his wife, Colleen.

Though Eric’s crisis was infinitely more serious than mine, he and I now agree that we’ve both learned something about the value of time, health, family and friends. These are the important things in life, for which there is no easy replacement. 

You can always get another job, I have realized. You can’t always get another friend.

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