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#19 Impermanence

Friday, 3 PM. Drifting blissfully into the weekend I am assaulted by an urgent Slack message—something about a new client blowing her lid over their in-flight software implementation. She’s furious. We need a plan together for Monday.

Mind you, there is no deadline occurring on Monday nor any sensical reason to circle the wagons, but the client is always right—right? And this isn’t even on me—I have yet to start the work on this account nor meet this wonderful gem of humanity. Nonetheless, here I am recycling slides from various decks about how we’re going to provide the utmost phenomenalist customer support to this new client, who on a scale of 1 to 10 falls somewhere at a 4 in terms of dollars spent and relative importance.

I know without ever having met her that the woman barking about is one of those dime-a-dozen HR leaders whose one claim to fame is finally being promoted to Director level and thereby gaining an iota of power, which is to say one iota more than they’ve ever had before. I know that within the Talent Acquisition realm, these folks hail from decades of mediocrity – Recruiters, Program Managers, and perhaps the worst offenders, Recruiting Managers. I know that these types will bark, scratch and claw their way into getting exactly what they want, despite what they are actually paying for. And I know that no matter what, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and I’d love to slam that whack-a-mole with a rubber hammer.

I also know that in a few days’ time I’ll soften up about this crabby middle-aged bat. I’ll spend a bit more time wondering how this human can be so unreasonably disgusting on a Friday afternoon as to disrupt the peaceful nature of an otherwise reasonably person’s life, followed by a spiral into patterns of overthinking and overanalyzing and an ultimate conclusion of feeling sorry for this person. After all, when you have nothing better to do than call up a technology contact that you haven’t even implemented yet and tear their head off, your life must be kind of pathetic.

You’re also failing to see the beauty in life. What lies on the other side of your darkness? Are you not capable of translating your pain and darkness into appreciation and gratitude? A ray of sunshine on a cloudy day; a stranger paying for your latte at the Starbucks drive-through; a child laughing in the park? When you wake up in the morning—when you first glimpse the daylight, what do you see?

When I was a kid I’d visit my father at his office in downtown Detroit. I’d marvel at the shiny glass tower, the escalators stretching to infinity, the sprawling cafeteria filled with grown-ups in suits and ties, the shiny women click-clacking through the halls. My father sat on the fourteenth floor within a row of cubicles that held some of his best friends—friendly finance and accounting types who would work right there at that energy company until their retirement some decades later. Hey kiddos, they’d say to my sister and I as we spun in the desk chair, what do you want to be when you grow up?

My answer varied over the years: astronaut, lawyer, aerospace engineer, Olympic figure skater, movie star. As I evolved as a human my dreams and interests evolved, too. But something bothered me during those visits, an eerie sense of xyz I couldn’t quite grasp. As I chatted about my inevitable forays into outer earth, drifting in and out of the cubes, I began to notice a pattern. My father’s friends had school pictures of their children on their desks, framed artifacts of a point in time, something they could look at to remind themselves of why they were withering away hours of their lives for the man. As the years went by the pictures remained the same; even my father’s pictures—on his desk, in the plastic slots inside his wallet—remained unchanged. Looking at those pictures, now a decade in the past—the eighties bangs, the florescent clothing—made me surprisingly sad. Did the dads and moms keep those pictures because they wanted their children to remain just that? Were they trying to preserve a point in time when their lives were shinier, newer—were they trying to preserve the beginnings of things? Or were they simply too busy to notice?

In my thirties, I will sit in my third house with my second fiancé drinking a coffee. I will look at pictures of my nephews on the wall and realize the baby in the photo is now five; the toddler I used to read to now old enough to consume chapter books on his own. I will wonder how I could have allowed those pictures to become so outdated, and I will realize in that instant what every human who has ever grown into adulthood learns; I will know that those pictures remained the same because the pace of time quickens with age, and try as we might to run and keep up we are destined to fall behind.

I am nowhere near a perfect person. But I have been fortunate enough to learn the value of health, gratitude and kindness. I wake up every morning swimming in a cocktail of security and thankfulness for what I have been given in this world; grateful for the breezy life I have been born into. A life without war, a home without conflict, a body without limitations. I also wake up in terror. Every morning I picture life from my mother’s view, staring at the wall or ceiling—whichever way she was last placed into bed—unable to move so much as a finger, unable to get up from bed without someone lifting her out of it. My appreciation for health and movement is rooted in a dark, painful place—a hellhole in which immobility reigns supreme, in which choice and decision making authority are bygones of another era and you are at the whims of your keepers.

They teach us in yoga that everything is impermanent, that by breathing slow and steady and focusing on that breath we can overcome anything; we can advance to the next stage, overcome our anxieties, soften our fears. They teach us in yoga that everything is impermanent, but paralysis seems different—what happened to my mother seems different. For her, what lie on the other side of paralysis was death—and at which point are we supposed to start wishing for that? At which point do we succumb to the lateness of the hour—pack up our things and move onward?

With all of the unnecessary noise in the world, how do we focus long enough to say our goodbyes?

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