Whatever shall I give up for Lent?
Just a normal Wednesday
February 13, 2013 started out as normal day. It was a Wednesday – Ash Wednesday to be precise.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and Lent is a period of 40 weekdays before Easter which is observed in some Christian churches as a period of prayer, penance, fasting, and self-denial.
People who observe Lent usually give something up. In the past I’ve given up coffee, sugar and/or chocolate because I really like coffee, sugar and chocolate; hence going without is a sacrifice. This year I wasn’t sure what to give up, so I headed out to my weekly Bible study, deciding I’d figure it out later that day.
After pulling into the church parking lot I checked my cell phone. Surprisingly there was a voice mail from my manager inviting me to a 1 p.m. meeting at the corporate office. Her message said we’d be discussing “agency updates” and that the Human Resources manager would be there in case I had any questions. It sounded ominous, but I had no idea what was coming.
Meeting at the office
When I arrived at the meeting, my manager was sitting on one side of the table and the HR manager on the other. My manager started to talk about the agency’s vision and how teams were being restructured and moving to different locations. The team I was on was going to move across the street to the corporate office. I said that seemed like a good idea – that the location was better for clients.
Then came the bombshell: my team was being restructured and my position was being eliminated.
I was stunned. She couldn’t have just said what I thought she did. I stammered, “Whaaa? You’re letting me go?”
My now former manager smiled weakly and gently nodded her head.
The HR manager asked if I wanted water.
“No, thank you,” I replied, still trying to take it all in.
I’d been there over 12 years. I was 56 years old. I thought I’d end my working years there.
It didn’t make sense. I worked hard, if anything, too hard. I spoke to more clients, logged more hours, and was dedicated to the cause. Foolishly I believed hard work would keep my position safe.
Feeling like I’d been punched in the gut, and with tears welling in my eyes, I asked, “Did I do anything wrong?”
“No”, she said, “You did nothing wrong.”
Still trying to process it all I asked, “Do I still go to Friday’s training?”
“No,” she replied quietly.
Again she offered water
Again the HR manager offered water. My mouth was parched, but I was starting to move from disbelief to anger and didn’t want to accept anything from them. It occurred to me that they would have planned this for a while, yet they hadn’t given me a whiff of what was coming. Although anger was brewing, fear was paramount. I was scared. I wondered how I’d pay my mortgage. Would I have to sell my house? Where would I go? What would I do? Would I ever work again?
The HR manager handed me some documents, recommended that a lawyer review them, and a little later a man walked in. My manager and the HR manager left me alone with him. He explained that he worked for the consulting firm hired to assist me in employment transition – the fancy word for what-you-do-after-you’re-dumped-from-one-job-and-are-looking-for-another. He told me that his firm would help with resume writing and networking and that I’d meet a lot of great people there. I heard some of what he said. Then the anger that was brewing started to bubble to the surface and I began to vent. I said a bunch of things, one of them being that I always wanted to be a famous writer, and that wouldn’t happen here. He looked at me and pronounced, “You’ll be fine. You’ve got a positive attitude.”
After a few minutes he suggested that it was time to leave and said he would walk me out. I told him I had no intention of screaming or throwing anything at anybody, but he stayed on my left anyway. I hesitated at the sign-out book, having been trained to sign in and sign out, but he told me it wasn’t necessary. We walked outside and he asked where my car was. That’s when I balked. Suddenly I was tired of acquiescing. I wanted to assert my will, and my will was this: I wanted a Vanilla Bean latte, with real sugar syrup, whipped cream and sprinkles. The Second Cup across the parking lot was calling my name and I wanted to obey. That’s when I smiled, because it hit me: giving up coffee, sugar or chocolate for Lent was no longer necessary. I’d already given something up: my job.
I wanted a latte
“Sorry, but I’m not ready to leave. I’m going to get a latte,” I said, pointing at the Second Cup.
He saw my defiance, deferred to my will, and we parted ways.
As I walked into the Second Cup and placed my order, the manager asked, “What’s new?” I told her. Her jaw dropped. Then she looked at me empathetically and said something really lovely. Unfortunately, since I was in shock, I can’t remember what it was – only that it was very kind and rather poetic. The unpoetic gist was that losing me was a great loss to my employer.
I left the shop and walked to my car where I sat in the driver’s seat for a while, unsure of where to go and what to do. Finally I turned the key in the ignition, took a sip of my latte, and pointed my car in the direction of home, certain of only one thing: I no longer had to decide what to give up for Lent.