There is nothing harder for me than change. Tolstoy said that, “True life is lived when tiny changes occur.” In that case, I have certainly lived a full life in the last year.
In the past 13 months, I lost my last surviving parent, became an empty nester and downsized to a condo. In fact, in August, we deposited our youngest child at college, closed on a condo, sold our house and moved—all in five days! Change came to our kids’ lives as well: every member of our immediate family moved this year, and between us we have experienced five new jobs. Dizzy from it all, I told myself that I just wanted, needed, for everything to stay the same for a while. But I clearly didn’t heed my own advice. Opportunity came knocking and today I left my job of six years. I’m officially unemployed until Monday—when I move across the University campus where I work and into a new role.
Saying goodbye is always draining, and that which is familiar suddenly takes on exaggerated importance. As I packed up my work space and left the building for the last time, I realized for the hundredth time in my life that there’s no going back. Remember walking across the stage at high school graduation or driving away from our college campus? When we returned—as inevitably we did—the particles in the air had shifted. We had become interlopers in an environment that was once part of our very DNA.
Leaving this job was all the harder not only because I’ve enjoyed it more than most other positions I’ve held, but because it has been a stable boat on stormy seas. When I assumed the role, I had two parents living and two children still at home. My oldest daughter was applying to graduate school when I took the job in 2014, my second daughter was about to complete high school, and my youngest was entering the teen years with aplomb. Now all that has changed. Life has raced forward.
The six years of this job have been the most turbulent, erratic ones of my life. Like it was yesterday, I remember standing on the sky bridge between buildings when I got the call that my dad had died. Years later I was extracting jammed paper from the copier when I received word that my mother had passed. Another time, I recall reaching for the phone and noticing the budding Spring trees outside my window—seconds before my daughter, hysterical, blurted out that she had totaled her car. There were days of enormous stress, of personal grief, that my eyes misted over on the long walk from the parking garage. Throughout this tumultuous life season, work was a refuge. I was blessed to work with colleagues who lifted me up through sarcastic humor. Perhaps they never knew the depths of worry within me; maybe they never realized that random pop-up conversations, sharp-tongued repartee and laughter often stood between me and despair. For their patience and their indulgences I am grateful. It was the team I needed at this time of my life.
Today as I was packing up, two items in my office gave me pause: a homely lamp and a tacky coffee mug. They have both been with me for years and are symbols of my journey, personal and professional.
Years ago, I had the arduous task of arranging my father’s room in an Alzheimer’s residence. While my mom had him out of their apartment, I grabbed clothes, quilts, artwork, and trinkets and set about getting Dad’s room at The Barton House ready. The next day I had to tell him that he was going there. Having that conversation was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The facility requested that we not visit him for 48 hours—to give him time to acclimate. The first day I was to see him I was finishing up at the office when the phone rang. It was the facility, suggesting that the only thing Dad still needed (which I had forgotten) was a bedside lamp. I knew I would not have time to go get one, so I hastily unplugged my desk lamp and took it with me. Almost two years later, after Dad passed away, I returned the lamp to its spot on my desk. There it has stood, a reminder of his battle with dementia. Every day when I flip its switch, I take some strange comfort in knowing that his fingertips are as present there as they were on my life.
Then there’s the coffee mug. Almost a decade ago, my dear friend Sharon and I worked in a particularly toxic work environment. Cups of coffee fueled conversations and steeled us and our co-workers for what we were going through. We laughed about coffee being our cups of courage. That year, over Thanksgiving weekend, I was shopping and saw a gawdy purple mug with the phrase “Cup of Cheer.” I bought it for Sharon as a gag gift, intending to fill it with candy and present it to her at work. When we returned from the holiday weekend, though, we were both laid off along with others. Weeks later, still in shock over what had happened, and trying to adjust to my new reality, I was cleaning out my car and found the mug. I never gave it to Sharon; I kept it as a reminder of what had happened, a reminder that surely better days lay ahead. Indeed, this ended up being true for both of us.
I intend to take the lamp and mug to my new office. They will remind me where I’ve been, as I start anew. As difficult as change is for me, I’ve reached a point in my life where I realize I need courage. As comfortable as it is, stagnation strangles our chances at growth.
If you’ve read this far, you’re undoubtedly wondering who the hell Taylor K is. The fact is, I don’t know. No one does. She (he?) is one of the urban legends of our office. You see, one day a year ago, I found several promotional easel desk calendars that had been discarded in a movie theater hallway. They were yummy, both in aesthetics and size, so I took one for my desk. To my surprise— and triggering much discourse in the office— “Taylor K’s 17th Bday” was noted on one date—the only writing in my prized find. It speaks to the inherent quirkiness of our group that we established a lunch celebration in her (or his?) honor.
Hopefully this will be an annual event and hopefully I’ll remain on the guest list. C.S. Lewis wrote of change that, “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” Believing that is what motivates us to step outside of our comfort zone and take a chance. And appreciating what we have left behind gives us the courage to do so.
Many happy birthdays to you and yours, Taylor K. And to my colleagues in Suite 224, my thanks.