This is how things end …

They say the stuff of which you are afraid rarely happens. Like being tossed into a pit full of snakes, developing an inoperable tumor that will bring a painful death, or being an empath locked in a room full of narcissists.

I always worried that I’d get to be this age and lose my job and health insurance.

And it happened. Out of the blue. One minute, I am working on a project for the Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners. The next minute, the boss and HR administrator are in your office with a stack of papers for you to sign and boxes for all your personal items.

Fifteen minutes later, you are heading down the road wondering how you are going to tell your spouse that your employer can’t afford to pay you and has no work for you to do. She married a reject, a loser.

The biggest fear, of course, is health insurance. It is insanely expensive, especially at this age. It’s become one more way that big business takes advantage of the downtrodden. The flurry of phone calls at all hours of the day and night regarding my online inquiry is like the harrassment a man receives after winning the lottery. Except I didn’t win this lottery. I held the pink, losing ticket.

The first matter of business was finding a way to protect our assets by having some manner of health insurance in place. Being a Christian, I was able to buy into the cost-sharing ministry of Christian Health Care Ministries. That and faith will be my “insurance” for $150 a month. It’s not insurance, but at least I won’t have to pay a penalty for not being in the system.

Searching for a job is a depressing job at any age, but when all the decision makers are in their 20s and 30s, and you are 63, it is a futile exercise. They are conditioned to believe that the only persons capable of doing and thinking are those of their own camp, who hold master’s degrees and have no value or knowledge that was not gained at great financial cost to their parents and themselves.

Yes, my  hair is gray. No, I don’t have the bachelor’s or master’s that the $9-an-hour, part-time job demands. But what of the 40 years of experience? The projects completed? The race almost run?

Some application processes immediately reject your online application if you don’t have the requisite degree. A person I once knew and who encouraged me to apply for jobs in a university told me to just go ahead an lie about the degree and then explain in the interview. That’s wrong and it tells the employer that you are a liar.

Then again, in our culture of looking out for Number One, of getting ahead at all costs, of doing what is right based upon the situation, lying is commonplace, even expected. Indeed, it might tell the employer, most likely a 30-some with a master’s and $150,000 in school loans, that you are resourceful.

Authentically phony. That seems to be gold standard for success.

We elect presidents and congressmen and other elected officials upon information that has very little truthfulness. We purchase products based upon reviews that are slanted by the reviewer having received free goods in exchange for the favorable review, and we sign up for services marketed with flashing lights, swooshes, motion graphics, starbursts and explosions. Life and selling the goods of living have become a video game.

Those who market the stuff of which this life is made specialize in superlatives, frosted air bubbles, perfect arrogance and pick-pocket, carnival barker tactics. I am as fearful of delving into that culture as I am of being unemployed at 63. Even as I write this, I feel a twinge of embarrassment and hypocrisy; why should I, as a writer, ask of you the most precious things you possess at this moment, your time and at least partial attention?

You may be on the clock and reading this, in which case I am stealing not only your time but your employer’s money. Or you may be reading this rather than spending time with your spouse or children. Stop reading if these are the cases. Focus on what is important.

I think that is the message that Ruth and I speak here, finding and focusing on what really matters. As INFJs, we struggle with defining that. It is always just on the tip of our tongues, but we can’t speak it. It will be an epiphany of purpose when that day comes.

We’re frustrated by the fact that there is so much clatter and noise out there, so many social media channels filled with time-wasters and attention grabbers that being quietly authentic is as scary as losing a job at the age 63.

My lovingly, beautifully ironed shirts and handsome ties have hung in the closet unworn now for six weeks; I am a T-shirt and jeans writer these days whose greatest ambition is to find a check in the mailbox or email offering a job interview. I live in the aftermath of a fear realized and navigate my way around the snakes in this pit and narcissists in the room, praying that the inoperable tumor will not be the last act in this drama.

All our working years we dream about that day we will retire, the party and the “gold watch” that will tick off the carefree hours of our retirement. An economy of instant gratification and short-term profits, buoyed by mass marketing and lies, has pretty much wiped out that dream for most middle- and lower-income Americans. We were always expendable, disposable commodities, and as we age, we are all the more so. One can always find a reason to discard that old thing and replace it with the new one that just arrived in an email pitch.

Not much else to say on this matter, it hangs like the scent of dung in the humid air of a summer day in dairy country. You eventually get used to the stench, the idea of being “prematurely retired” rather than unemployed, of realizing that not all journeys end with a party and that most of our fears are realized eventually, otherwise we have wasted our lives fearing and not really living.

On being INFJ

All my life I have felt weird, out of place. Like a dust bunny in an operating suite. A vegetarian at a Texas barbeque. A lifetime WCTU member at a distiller’s convention.

The rest of the world was having fun, I observing, thinking about what was going on; feeling the sound waves, but never hearing the sound; sensing the emotions of the room, but never engaged in them; watching the shadow move across the time dial, but sensing the absence of having lived under the sun that cast it.

I was labeled “shy,” “distant,” “quiet” and “aloof.” At a party – to which I am rarely invited – I’d rather be in a corner with a book or hiding behind a camera than at the center with a drink in my hand.

It’s been this way since I was old enough to remember sadness. I cried when my goldfish died and went into a serious depression when they hauled the cow away and it came back wrapped in white paper stacked in freezer. When an old man ran out of candy one Halloween night and had to give pennies, instead, I asked my mother if I could take it back to him, afraid he might need it for food.

My teachers called me “sensitive,” the kids called me “sissy.” Childhood was hard, and I spent most of it watching clouds, doing chemistry experiments and trying to remember where I’d just come from and why I was here.

As I got older, it got worse. I was the shy nerd in high school, my heart yearning for love but my nose too long and hair too short to attract it. It was the late 1960s, after all, and long hair was a sure sign of rebellion, if not outright Satanic possession. You talked to only Christian girls, and they talked to only cool Christian jocks and pastor’s sons who were heading off to Bible college to become just like Dad.

In adulthood being odd was no longer an option; to make a living, you have to fit in, even if you stick out. Words beckoned, written words. An INFJ will take an hour writing a letter that a phone call could resolve in 30 seconds. Forty-five years later, I am writing to you.

I was out of place wherever I went. The pitter patter of polite conversation was so much rain on my roof, lulling me to sleep, boredom. Last night’s ball game, the grandkids’ report card, the hunting expo … I retreated … It was not that I had nothing to say; to the contrary, there was much below the surface and poker face. But who would want to listen?

On a rare occasion, someone would listen, and it was wonderful. We would start to talk and discover were on the same page, sentence and comma, where life paused, esoteric topics were germane and questions asked with expectation of answers.

I was in my late 50s when the mystery began to unravel and discovered that my personality is INFJ.

The revelation came by taking a personality test. The result is based upon the Briggs-Myer Type Indicator (BMTI), which proposes 16 distinct personalities based upon the four criteria that Jung developed. So my type is Introvert-Intuitive-Feeling-Judge.

It is the rarest of the personalities. Less than 2 percent of the whole population have it, and it is even rarer among men.

I want to be clear about something: I do not consider myself “special” because of my type. At the root of it all, I’m still a sinner saved by grace, schooled by pain and soothed by love. My operating system is the righteousness of Christ imputed through his sacrifice. But the software, it is INFJ, and it determines what this human heart is capable of doing and how this human mind perceives reality.

For example, INFJ people love deeply and can be happy with  just one friend, one deep relationship, whereas most people measure relationship success with the number of friends they have on Facebook.

Once an INFJ comes to trust someone, he or she is in it for life. They constantly believe the best about the other person, even if the evidence points to something else. They make dedicated, loyal and committed spouses; they find no joy in sleeping around or one-night stands. Sex transcends the physical; it is more than two bodies coming together, it is two souls.

An INFJ is glued to his or her spouse. He or she won’t let go, no matter how many times they are hurt. They are stubborn lovers and the only deal breaker is breaking up itself. They dive in with their whole heart, and if the other person can’t do that, the effect is devastating.

If the relationship breaks down, and the INFJ’s partner walks away, it is seen as an act of treason and violence against the fabric of the universe. We trust completely, and when that trust is shattered, we feel like a 10,00o-piece jigsaw puzzle tossed into outer space. The pieces, we are certain, will never come back together. All is lost.

INFJs are intensely empathetic;  as weird as this seems to most people, we feel other people’s emotions. Sometimes, when I walk in my neighborhood, I sense what is going on in a stranger’s house and have to stop and pray about it.

We are old souls, we feel like we have been around this block one too many times. We’ve felt every grief and joy known to mankind, and we are so tired of the pain. We long for love’s balm and sacrifice everything when we feel connection finally occurred. My daily prayer is “Dear God, do not let me die until I have fully lived and really loved.” And I mean it.

When the connection longed for all those years and decades turns out to be but a crossed wire, our confidence in our intuition, as well as all humanity, implodes. Yet another reason that healing from a broken relationship is so very difficult for an INFJ.

Everything about us is a paradox. We want to love but are scared to death of love because we hurt so deeply when it goes wrong. We want to be with other people, but the introvert keeps us from reaching out. And when we are with people who engage in idle chit-chit, we just want to retreat into that corner with a book and our thoughts.

The empathy in us makes it impossible to understand how a person who we trusted and loved can break a commitment and walk away.  Competing emotions well up – anger for the pain inflicted even as we feel empathy for the person who is walking away from the riches of human love that could have been theirs.

We linger in the shadows far too long, and the shadows often becomes our graves. We relive every failure and keep a ledger of the mistakes that killed the relationship. We step back and see a long row of words, phrases and dates under our name.

Everything is our fault. And that makes us a perfect target for those who are perfect, who have no sense of accountability to a partner. Our favorite expression is “I’m sorry.”

We are quick to take the blame and fix the ills of the relationship, as well as the world.

We are dreamers, artists and visionaries. We are passionate about human and animal rights; we can’t stand to see an injustice occur, unless it is to ourselves, and then we think it is O.K. because, after all, we are at fault and we are sorry.

We think all the time. Even when we sleep. I never wake up rested. I wake up probably 50 times a night, and each time I wake up, a thought is there. Usually about loss, pain or a concern; seldom about a blessing.  My first wife always said my mind never shut down. If I was quiet, which I usually was, she knew something was being created inside my head, and I could not wait until whatever we were doing to be over so I could act on those thoughts.

We are never satisfied with what we create, however. We can never step back and see the beauty or grace in it. We see only the speck of dirt in the paint, the misspelled word in the book, the misplaced comma. We expect perfection and find only our imperfect selves.

Accordingly, God frustrates us. We can’t understand why the rest of the church equates experiencing God to emotions. Isn’t there some factual perfection that we ought to be able to discover in him? Why does an eternal God who is said to be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow act with such serendipity, saving one relationship or life here, allowing another to wither or die there, despite fervent prayer? Our favorite word in just about any discussion is “why,” but especially so in things theological, probably the worst possible venue in which to ask “why?”

Like answers to theological riddles, the things we long for more than anything else elude us: deep conversation that goes late into the night and a loving relationship that grows more loving and deeper with each passing day. The INFJ would trade his soul, and often does, for those two things. And when the tradeoff turns out to have been as phony as free healthcare, we grieve deeply. Not just for our loss, but for that of the person who could not see the value in what was being offered.

We retreat to our books, our thoughts, our private space that we cherish so deeply. Chances are, there is not a lot of stuff in that space, but what there is of it is very, very special to us. It tells our story, and typically exudes craftsmanship, quality and beauty. We’d rather have one high-quality thing than 20 mediocre objects, unless they are books, records, stones, sea shells, driftwood, dogs or cats. Then we are hoarders.

In my life, I have felt great unrest in my relationship with things. My parents and first wife found great comfort in collecting. I followed in their steps, but found it so exhausting. I was minimalist living in a big box version of Goodwill, Salvation Army and the neighborhood thrift store rolled into one.

That is changing.

As I write this, my kitchen floor is covered with stuff I’ve collected. I’m sorting it, selling it, letting it go. My spirit is soaring as I do. That piece of concrete I’ve carried on my back for decades is getting lighter. Perhaps, if I am fortunate enough, it will turn to sand and roll off and I will fly away to that perfect place that every INFJ dreams about, where it is just me, nature, beauty, space to create and that one incredible person love ever so deeply – soulmate.

Just knowing who I am and why I have felt so weird and out of place all these years, why previous relationships didn’t work and why I got hurt so deeply by them, has been liberating. Why don’t they teach this stuff in junior high? Why don’t we focus on helping kids figure out who they are before we start pushing them into societal molds? If we did that, there would be fewer suicides, fewer addictions and fewer divorces. We’d have a road map to ourselves and to understanding why we do the things we do. More importantly, we’d learn that other people do not think like us or feel as intensely, and we have no right to expect them to do so. We’d learn to respect each other.

Imagine that, respecting each other’s differences without labeling them weird, sissy or nerd.

As I said, INFJs are dreamers.