For about a year in my early 20s I lived with a bunch of other young people in an old three-story house very close to the University of Virginia. Everyone there was either a grad student or a recent graduate with at least one foot still back in the ivory tower. Individually, no doubt we all had issues and insecurities, but together we had synergy. Without consciously trying, we created what felt like a magical time and place. The larger sphere around us offered on a regular basis events that ranged from square dances to appearances by visiting authors and scholars, but I could count on finding diversion any time I ventured outdoors or even just downstairs to the common area of the house.
Then, gradually, things became less amusing. Some of my favorite people moved away, and I perceived that the day would come when they’d all be gone. And, like it or not, I too needed to conclude what I’d been doing, move out into the real world and apply myself to whatever it was grownups did.
Good situations like that should be enjoyed and treasured while they last. But they tend to be ephemeral. I recall a well-known ad from that general time frame in which a wine maker promised to “sell no wine before its time.” Conversely, I observed, one also cannot hang on to something past its time. It’s wrong to try. Impermanence is a feature of life, and regardless of the value judgment placed on a given piece of life, this too always passes.
A church bought the rooming house in which my friends and I had been living, and made clear their intention that the place was going to become more respectable. That’s not to say it had been particularly disreputable, you understand, but nevertheless the new owners meant to put their stamp upon it. They began by repainting the walls, obliterating in the process some Chinese graffiti that I’d never been able to read but that contributed, I thought, to the general groovy atmosphere.
The “Kung Fu” television series was popular in those days, and in my head I heard Master Kan kindly saying to young Caine, “Time for you to leave.”
* * *
Decades have passed, and every so often that general scenario recurs, with variations. The moment of change seems to involve backing up a step and getting a renewed grip on that which is most important, before trying again. It feels like working with a socket wrench (albeit one prone to slipping off the bolt).
The concluding pages of What About the Boy? mention a stimulating new job into which I was fortunate enough to find my way in mid-career. A downturn in the aerospace industry had just claimed my previous job, cancer had just claimed my wife Judy, and our son Joseph was turning out to be far more seriously afflicted by his disability than we’d ever anticipated. All those declining trajectories had followed roughly parallel courses. My needs at that point may seem modest, but felt like a big order to me: I wanted to know if it were possible for anything at all to work out. Something did. I joined Qualcomm when it was still a fairly small company and played a humble, supporting role in the emergence of CDMA technology and worldwide use of mobile telecommunications. I learned, grew, and had an enormous amount of fun in the process. And thus enabled I could accept the blessings of a second marriage and in due course two more kiddos.
Life had turned around. I mean, it did a one-eighty! I still worried about Joseph, of course, still sought to help him in any way possible, but knew the importance of embracing the blessings I’d been given.
More time has passed, and on the professional side the ground is shifting under my feet again. New people are in charge of the company. You might say that they are painting the walls. I am among 600 employees who have gotten severance notices on this particular swing of the scythe.
Most people who hear of this express sympathy and talk about unfairness. They note (correctly) that what we call security is an illusion. Of course, that should come as news to no one. Similar observations are made every time a company lets people go. But one friend leaped over all the boilerplate and simply offered congratulations! Because security isn’t really secure, no growth occurs in clinging too long to something that has grown comfortable. Transitions provide an opportunity to discover what other treasures life still has in store, and to find new ways of contributing. Now, I do confess to feeling a certain amount of anxiety, because four others in my family are depending on me. It comes in waves, alternating with moments of calm. The calm is based on my conviction that the source of blessings will not run dry. And so, in the back of my mind, a little voice sometimes whispers …
|One place where good things happened.
What’s the next venue?