On Saturday the 6th I received a phone call from a friend whom I’ve known for more than 10 years announcing that he was no longer with the company who had employed him for the last 20 years. He began work for this utility digging ditches and working on their gas lines in the street. At the time of his separation he had risen to the position of Vice President of Customer Services and Marketing. We met when he was a supervisor in Customer Services who had just taken over responsibility for training and had called our company to inquire about the services we offered for training his people. After a sales visit to his company at his invitation in 1988, I went on to do a variety of training and consulting services with them through the years, so I know most of the people involved there, from the front-line employees to the CEO.
My friend’s departure was sudden and apparently unforeseen. In his call, which went to my answering machine since I was working that Saturday, the shock and hurt that he felt was evident. We’ve talked only briefly a couple of times since that first call, because each time I’ve called to try to offer some support he’s had others there, and it didn’t seem to be a good time for him. I suspect we’ll have a chance to talk again soon, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to support him as he as done for me in the past.
This event has prompted me to do a lot of thinking about the place such sudden “tragic” events have in the long-term course of a person’s life. So often in the moment of experiencing them we feel the pain, see the negative consequences of them and tremble with the prospect of what they mean for our immediate future. I’m also struck by the number of people with whom I’ve spoken through the years who, when looking back on experiences like this, say they were a turning point for something better in their life. It causes me to think of these experiences as similar to a baby bird’s experience of being kicked out of the nest by the mother bird. From the young bird’s perspective, it is a “tragic” disruption of its comfort and security, but is also the beginning of its taking wing on its own. No longer can the bird sit in the nest and wait to be fed by its parent, but now it is free to soar through the sky and to build a nest of its own wherever it chooses. There is loss, certainly, but that loss is compensated by the requirement to be free.
Sometimes the thing we call a tragedy is nothing more than the doorway to a growth spirt.