Chapter 1 – The Hand
I left my first successful corporate job on the 4th of October, 2002. The date is memorable only because my friend Michael sent a farewell email that read “10/4 good buddy.” Programmers are so predictable. “What a geek,” I wrote back. I packed up the contents of my cubicle and windexed off hundreds of greasy fingerprints that accumulated on my monitor over the last five years. “Can’t let that next employee see what a slob I’ve been!” I said to the dirty blond with the short skirt and 6-inch heels who shared the cubicle with me for the last year, but her eyes remained glued to her screen as she paid zero attention to me. No big deal, just more confirmation that I didn’t belong here anymore.
There wasn’t a lot to pack up. A few pictures of my son Frank, a giraffe beanie baby my sister gave me the first day of work, a framed poem entitled “Don’t Quit” that kept me going on dismal days, a greeting card from an old boyfriend (he clearly wasn’t the romantic type, evident by the goofy Chihuahua on the card’s front), and a multitude of laminated go-for-it type quotes intended to motivate me to hit my quarterly quotas.
Inside my cold metal desk drawer, under a heap of signed contracts I’d already disposed of, were a slew of dust bunnies and two unopened packs of Oodles of Noodles. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d brought lunch to work – there was no need to with a seven minute commute from home. I blew away a few strands of hair that mysteriously clung to the cellophane wrapper. I thought about presenting the foam-food as a parting gift to my cube-mate still fixated on her spreadsheet, but sure she wouldn’t see the humor in it, I tossed them in the garbage can.
Strange day. My excitement was a mile high when I walked through the company doors this morning. I was leaving here by my own choosing…well sort of…and leaving behind a track record that most had envied. Michael nicknamed me Seinfeld because he said I quit while I was still on top. “That’s a stretch!” I laughed, “Yet I must admit, I hate when a show or an employee jumps the shark.” But as the hours passed my enthusiasm wore thin and by mid-afternoon the stockpile of certainty I had when I gave my two weeks’ notice gave way to melancholy. Using my feeble sense of humor to mask any indication of remorse, I grabbed the greeting card with the Chihuahua and held it in front of my face as I turned once more to the girl next to me and belted out, “DROP THE CHALUPA!” Nothing. Not a Taco Bell fan I guess. Sensing my humiliation, she finally turned towards me and offered a fake smile that conveyed, “Could you pack any faster weirdo?”
I sat down in the faded cobalt-blue chair and spun around for one last time. Most exiting employees are long gone by lunch hour on their last day. Me? I couldn’t seem to drag myself away. It was past 5 p.m. on Friday and although I was already late for my own celebratory happy hour with friends, I needed just five more minutes to reminisce. It was time to say goodbye to the security and independence I had grown fond of. To be honest, it really wasn’t my choice to leave, but nobody knew that but me. No one in this entire company has any idea of the things I sense when I’m alone. But more about that later. I refused to depart this place with remorse raining on my parade, so I summoned the sense of pride that had come into work with me this morning. There was much to be proud of. Having landed a job in this company without a degree and with no computer experience was quite an accomplishment! Who am I kidding? It was an act of God!
Five years earlier, I was coming off the heels of a hellish divorce that scored enough drama points to make it Oprah worthy. No point in dredging up the gory details; but after being kicked to the curb with a six year old son, losing every asset I ever had, and dealing with the loss of marriage and two step kids, I turned to God, whether or not I wanted to. Nothing else was solid enough to stand on and not a soul on earth was trustworthy (or so it seemed). I was tossed around from neighbor to friend to family member looking for a place for Frankie and me to call “home”. My sister offered to take us in while I looked for work that could eventually afford me a place of my own. Without a vehicle, the job search was limited considerably, and interviewing in a grief-struck state of mind was like training for a marathon with a sprained ankle.
The software company only three blocks away was hiring, and although I was probably the worse candidate for the job having never touched a computer, I pushed myself to set up an interview. The HR director was out of town for several weeks, so a spiky-red-haired temp examined my sorry looking resume. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t fake the optimism or interest that one should demonstrate during an interview. I was shell-shocked by all the recent changes and interviewing for a position I knew nothing about took a Herculean effort. The redhead saw right through me. I gave up the act accepting the idea that I’d end up stocking shelves at the Wawa around the corner. Fighting back tears, I was candid about my emotional state and all I had just lost – marriage, step kids, house, car and sense of security, and I promised her that hiring me would be worth her risk.
She leaned towards me smiling compassionately. “Well, you don’t have as much experience as we’d like, but I get the feeling you won’t let me down. And…” She leaned closer so no one would hear, “…between you and me, my mom went through a similar situation when I was about the same age as your son. I want to do for you what others did for my mom. I’m going to give you a chance to prove yourself and rebuild your life.” She made the right decision hiring me. I was one of the most driven individuals the company ever employed. Never wanting to appear inexperienced, I observed others with hawk-like vision, watching them operate office equipment, use various applications and manage demanding customers. I was determined to do a better job than anyone and my efforts paid off. I ultimately racked up a few “employee of the month” awards in my first year.
When I wasn’t on the job, I was at the local library, reading all the self-help, business and spiritual books I could get my hands on. While that may not seem like a big deal, it was for me. I was the kid in the family that could barely read. Comprehension was a stumbling block and my below average grades in school stopped me from getting into college. Yet now books were more important to me than food. I would sometimes drift off to sleep with three or four partially read books on my bed and blissful dreams would whisk me away to my very own book signings and tours.
At work, I exceeded every target I set for myself. Within five short years, I was promoted three times and practically quadrupled my salary, giving me the ability to replace all the material possessions I had lost in the divorce. A car, a house, furniture, fridge full of food and lots of clothes. We lived well.
That’s why, leaving the company when my life finally came together seemed incredibly stupid to the people closest to me. I understood their concern. I had very little idea why I was leaving myself. I mean why would anyone leave a six-figure position, with good benefits, a retirement plan, and an easy commute! And to leave all of that without a plan in place? Yeah, that seemed insane. People want reasons. Rational, practical reasons for making life-changing decisions. I had my reason, just not one I could explain to the average person. I couldn’t say “I found a better opportunity…I’m relocating…I’m starting a family…I’m retiring…I’m burning out…” because that would be lying. No, my reasons were sure to stir up concern for my mental health, so I kept them to myself.
Some invisible force had come into my space and followed me around constantly whispering in my ear. It started one day while I was driving home from work and the CD I created with some old 70’s songs was playing Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon”. Midway through the song, the CD paused on its own and an unfamiliar voice (certainly not Stevie Nicks) came out of the speakers, “The time is now. Take a risk.” My car almost went off the road as I jerked my head to the right expecting to find some stranger who snuck into the backseat of my car. But there was no one.
Over the next few weeks, the same message came in a variety of ways – for instance:
–My take-home Chinese dinner included a fortune cookie. I almost choked on the piece in my mouth as I read the message on the small white strip… “The time is now. Take a risk.”
–In the state park near my home, I sat on a bench after a long walk. A married couple rested on the bench a few feet away and the husband pointed out different birds to his wife. “Ah, there she is! Our Magpie,” he directed her attention to a gorgeous black and white bird perched on a fence post. “It must be time to let go of something…and take a risk!” I wasn’t sure why he would say such an odd thing while looking at birds, so I worked up the nerve to inquire. He told me that animals are messengers and that when an unexpected animal shows up, he takes the message seriously. I thought this was the silliest thing I’d ever heard, so I tuned him out as he rattled off the names of books he suggested I read on this subject. I thanked him respectfully and went on my way, laughing under my breath. As I returned to my car, my heart skipped a beat at seeing the Magpie now perched on the hood of my car as if waiting for me!
–In a dream, an elderly woman with a cane stood across a busy highway. She shouted at me as I waited for a break in the traffic to cross in her direction. I couldn’t hear her over the sound of the traffic and she was visibly frustrated with me. She kept yelling something and I couldn’t hear her, nor get to her with the cars and trucks whizzing by us. She angrily picked up her cane and shook it at me and shouted, “The time is NOW. Take a risk and LEAVE YOUR JOB!”
Leave my job. It made no sense, so I ignored the messages. I didn’t care how many animals, old ladies, or fortune cookies stalked me, I wasn’t going to leave my job. So God took a different tact. I started tripping. Tripping over my own feet. Tripping over other people’s feet. Tripping up the steps, down the steps, over the curb and sometimes for no apparent reason at all. I would just plain fall on the ground. I had more bruises over a month than I had accumulated in all of my life. A friend suggested I had MS or some other muscular illness. I knew that wasn’t the case. I knew it was the hand of God on my back pushing me down until I was ready to obey. So I raised the white flag of surrender and spent an entire weekend writing my letter of resignation.
On a Sunday night, I signed a final draft of the letter and put it in my brief case. I called the only friend I could trust, the only one I had confided in about all the signs I had received. Dee had the patience of a saint when it came to me. She had a knack for making me feel normal in the midst of chaos. Knowing my torment at having to give my resignation, she said, “When my mother is having a difficult time making a decision, she asks Saint Theresa for a rose. Why don’t you do that? If you get a rose tomorrow, you’ll know for sure you are on the right track with this decision!”
I thanked Dee and got off the phone. A rose? Not good enough. Too common and I see them every day in front of my neighbor’s house. I needed something unusual. I asked God to send me a calla lily. A big white calla lily. I was a huge fan of this flower that looked like a pig’s ear on a stick. I had carried them down the aisle way back on my wedding day and would treat myself to a few in a vase when I needed an occasional pick-me-up. “I need to see a calla lily before I hand in my letter of resignation. And you know…” I added firmly, “That’s the least you can do considering all the bruises you’ve inflicted on me”. And with that final prayer I went to sleep.
Parking my car the next morning, I reminded God about our deal. I wasn’t going to turn in that letter without a sign in the form of a calla lily. I smiled knowing the likelihood of seeing that specific type of flower in the parking lot, let alone the building, was slim to none and I would soon be free of this torment. I’d be able to chalk the whole thing up to PMS or an early case of mid-life crisis.
The morning was difficult. Right off the bat, my boss pulled me into a meeting and blew off more steam than usual. He ranted about some report I hadn’t turned in and how it made him look bad at the executive meeting. This was the first I’d heard about this report. We stared at each other as if the other one had lost their mind. He was sure he had requested some report. I was sure I had never heard of it.
Things got worse. My biggest client reneged on the only contract I had in the pipeline. That meant no commissions for me over two months. I flopped in my chair and flung the contract on my desk; unaware of the comedy of errors I’d set off. The contract landed on my phone, forcing the handset onto the desk and bumping the paper cup filled with V-8 with just enough force to knock it over on its side so that it could spill all over my papers and my tan linen pants. I left the mess and made a beeline for the bathroom before anyone could see me lose it.
The lady’s room had a small sitting area and six stalls (thankfully all empty). After doing my best to wash off the V-8 in the sink and dry the pants under the hand-dryer, I took a hiatus on one of the leather chairs in the sitting area. Having forgotten all about the deal I’d made with God, I was consumed with the chaos that one short morning had just delivered. “What’s happening to me? What are you doing to me?!” I said out loud. Getting no reply, I felt incredibly lost and unable to face the office. My head was a traffic jam of questions and uncertainty and all I could do was pass time. I mindlessly picked up an Avon catalogue someone had left behind and thumbed through hundreds of pages of products I’d never purchase from jewelry to cosmetics.
And suddenly…I saw it. Right smack in the center of the catalogue (showcased across the centerfold as a matter of fact) was a huge white calla lily that stretched from edge to edge. Slack jawed, I stared at the flower as tingles ran up my spine. Avon was selling a commemorative plate, the kind you would display on a wall. A white calla lily painted on the plate served as the background, the Serenity Prayer took the foreground.
“God grant me the…
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can; and
Wisdom to know the difference.”
With complete confidence, I interrupted my boss’s lunch, handed him my letter of resignation and returned to my desk to finally clean up the morning mess I’d run from. After my boss had time to digest my letter (as well as his lunch), he hunted me down looking for the basis of my departure, insisting I better have good reason after all he’d done to make me successful! I knew the question was coming and I was prepared. “The hand of God is on my back and I can’t deny it.”
“Well?” He took a few steps back and scratched his baldhead forfeiting the pending argument and sparing me the guilt-induced speech, “I guess I can’t argue with God.”