12 December 2008

I Am (Not) a Rock, I Am (Not) an Island

Setting: Office cubicle, somewhere in Baltimore, Maryland. It is late morning on a cold, rainy day. Sitting in his office chair, a middle-aged architect stares out the window at the grey, wet street and contemplates a future without his current job. He rubs his temples and coughs, thinking this is what it feels to be a dead man walkin’…

If my last day at work had been a movie, it would have bordered on cliché. All the requisite somber faces, the packing up of personal effects, a cubicle with bare walls and dust bunnies on the countertops. Even the weather was playing it up: cold, grey and raining. All day I had that weird feeling of being an outsider, a fifth wheel, a good friend with a contagious disease. Thinking about that this morning when I woke up, I started to laugh. I couldn’t have written a better script without it being totally ridiculous.

Yesterday I received a grand total of two phone calls. No regrets there, I was never keen on working the phones anyway. But it was weird to overhear a page or a call that ordinarily would have come to me ending up with someone else. Conversations like that make me feel like I was overhearing secrets through a closed door, discussions about me in the third person. Remember when you were little, and you parents would talk about you to others, in your presence, as if you weren’t there? Yeah, it was like that.

I was struggling to put my feelings into words, as if naming them would make them less noticeable. Was it regret I was feeling? Was it sadness? Relief? I finally decided it was a mix of the three. A gumbo of emotions, one might say. Hah. Regret that this had happened, sadness that I was leaving against my will, relief that it was over.

The wonderful people I worked with, my colleagues, asked me if I wanted to go out for lunch. Of course I did; no way was I working through lunch THIS time! I did not realize at the time just how many were coming. When we got to the restaurant, there were nine other people at the table! Counting me, over half the office was there. I was touched and honored. The curmudgeon in me was feeling small and fading fast.

Cut to close-up: “Dead man walkin’!” the warden shouts. The condemned musters all the dignity he can, making his way through the office for a last round of handshakes, hugs and goodbyes. The quiver in his voice doesn’t quite disappear. Mercifully his eyes stay dry, no easy task as his officemates offer thanks and regrets, sympathy and warmth. One last hug and a final walk to the dim, cold garage where his car awaits. The steel door shuts behind him, a dull boom that seems unusually loud. He starts the car, opens the garage door, and drives slowly out into the cold rain falling from a sky the color of beaten lead.

So the cameras continued to roll as I drove away from my career perch for the last three years. I did look back once, but not for long. The road leading over to I-95 is a busy one, and I didn’t want to compound the misery by rear-ending another car. It is about a mile to the underpass where I always turned right to get to the interstate ramp.

It is dark under the highway. I consider it a record of sorts that I did not burst into tears until I had made that right turn and was heading up the ramp up onto I-95. And do you know how hard it is to drive at highway speeds, when it is raining, getting dark and your eyes are filling up with tears? VERY hard. I do not recommend it. I felt really stupid at first. Why was I crying? Because I was forced out of a position that, in reality, wasn’t optimized for my happiness? Because the Universe is a harsh, uncaring place and life isn’t fair? Maybe yes on both counts, but only a little bit. There will be other jobs and the universe has always been that way.

The real reason, the main reason, was because I had to leave behind some relationships that were teaching me to truly be human. Three years is not that long in the lifespan of career, but it was long enough. In spite of my animal nature, I was (and hopefully still am) on the way to opening up as human being. I know that this isn’t the end of everything, but I couldn’t help the sadness. The universe may be an uncaring place, but the people in it do not have to be. This is why I broke down; I may never be able to repay the kindnesses I received, the lessons I learned. All I can offer is my gratitude and my thanks.

A job is a job but it is people that matter. I’m thankful I learned that before it was too late.


  1. Wow. My words fail me. As blog posts go, this one is epic.

    You've perfectly captured the essence of being laid off - really, it boils down to the relationships you've made along the way, the people you leave behind.

    It sounds like you'll be missed there.

  2. my son, you are one hell of
    a man.I know you you will move
    on to better things.Just keep
    being who you are.
    love ya
    your oldman

  3. See? This is one benefit of being a woman. You could've cried all day and it would've been perfectly fine. Plus, you can blame it on hormones and all.

    Sorry to hear about the job loss, but happy to know that you recognized that people are what's important.

  4. That was really well written. And touching...

  5. Wonderfully written...not that I expected anything less from you. Even though the job may be gone, remember the people are still here for you. Looking forward to seeing where life takes you next!


  6. dude - my tears flow and I feel exactly what you have written. Good things will come your way, I know it!


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...