If they’d listen to me, I’d tell them all to lighten up. Up close, things are never as clear as they are far away. The things we tangle ourselves into knots about are almost always not important, at least not as important as we convince ourselves they are.
What is important is the people we are thrown together with via genetics or random chance. We are shadows and light, “stardust” as Joni Mitchell put it, and our time together is limited. This is so painfully obvious, yet it isn’t real to us until we are separated.
A few months after I left work, I went out to lunch with a former co-worker. Afterwards I decided to drop by the office and see what everybody was up to. Big mistake. Most of the desks I stopped by were empty, their occupants off to meetings, and the few who were at their desks were tied up in phone calls. Of course they were, I’d already forgotten how crazy hectic work was. I walked past a windowed meeting room and there in a meeting were a number of my former co-workers. They motioned me in, I stopped and exchanged a couple minutes of small talk, but that was all, as they had important work to do, work that no longer included me. I left the meeting room and then the building, and as I got in my car and pulled out of the parking lot, I realized for the first time that my departure was permanent. It hurt. I actually felt it in the pit of my stomach. The work I had, for better or worse, thrown myself into for the previous thirteen years, had no place for me anymore. I also began to understand that the relationships I’d formed and treasured with my co-workers were almost all framed by the shared experience of work, and that my departure had severed those connections.
There were several reasons why I left when I did, all having to do with my instance of Parkinson’s disease, and all valid. There were the tremors that intensified with stress, the micrographia (illegibly small handwriting), the incoherent speech, the stiffness and rigidity of my wearing off periods when I could barely move, and the episodes of falling asleep, in my office usually in the late morning, and almost every evening while driving home. Waking up behind the wheel and across the center line, in the glare of oncoming headlights, was a terrifying but all too frequent occurrence. I remain convinced that it was the right time to leave.
Needing something to do, I decided to take a whack at a long put off dream, and started writing. I threw myself into it, and now, two and a half years later, I’ve finished a first novel (still trying to get it published) and am about halfway through a second. Although I’ve made a number of new friends in the writer’s group I joined, it’s still largely a solitary existence, especially compared to the high energy, high stress corporate world I was part of before. I love writing and I think I’m getting better at it. I approach it with all the passion and energy I can muster. I thank the heavens that I have something I love so much, because if I didn’t, there’d be nothing to deflect the pain and loss of losing my job, my career, and the emptiness would be all consuming.
Work gives us a sense of purpose, a sense that we and what we do matter. These things are often illusory, or at least exaggerated. What is the most real are the relationships we form with our co-workers, dear friends or bitter enemies, accomplices or obstacles, the people we spend more of our waking time with than anyone. It’s only when these relationships are lost that we realize how precious and fragile they were. I never imagined I’d lose them this quickly, or how much their loss hurts.
A long time ago, at a different job, I had a boss explain to me that working is like sticking your arm into a bucket of water. Whey you leave, you pull your arm out. The water ripples for a few seconds, but soon is smooth and calm, all evidence of you having ever been there vanished. And that’s the way it has to be, he said, because there is too much at stake, too much is dependent upon the simple fact that time and life go on.
But memories endure. I pull them out from time to time and watch them shine.