61: Downsized

61: Downsized

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Downsized

Moving on, is a simple thing, what it leaves behind is hard.

~Dave Mustaine

“This is your thirty-day notice.”

Everything slipped into slow motion. I felt the blood drain from my face. “It’s a money-saving decision.” My boss looked away and twirled his pencil. “By combining departments we can save on management costs.”

I wondered what I had done wrong, if I had unknowingly crossed an invisible line that pushed me out of existence.

“It’s nothing personal,” he said.

It felt very personal. We sat in silence. I could feel his relief when I finally stood to leave.

“What are you going to do?”

I had no idea.

My husband was sympathetic. Words caught in my throat and came out in a near whisper. No matter how hard I tried, I could not bring myself to speak of it to anyone else. Not my mother or my sister, not my adult children. The hurt was too deep. Not even the benefit of a pink slip; just a casual remark on a Friday afternoon that ended my career.

My devotional reading that morning had been Psalm 37:25 (NIV). “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” I felt forsaken in spite of the Psalm.

I stayed indoors the entire weekend, unable to eat or talk with anyone.

On Monday, the facility buzzed with the news. Swirling emotions exhausted me and I counted the hours until I could punch out and go home. Then I counted the remaining days until I could leave forever, marking my desk calendar with a pencil. It seemed impossible I could survive twenty working days, the embarrassment and shame, the rumors.

Without future projects on my desk, there was little to do. I dared not complain; I needed every cent I could scrape together before unemployment cut my wages in half. There were bills to pay. How would I manage?

I had worked hard to get to the place where I didn’t have the physically demanding job of working on the floor, the rotating shifts, the lifting. At fifty-one, I had physical limitations beyond my control.

I wanted to remind everyone that I was Employee of the Month only three years back, that two months ago I received a glowing evaluation. It was hard when co-workers sympathized with me and terrible when they were unsympathetic. But even worse were the people who said nothing at all. I felt like I was on death row or had something contagious; people avoided me, not knowing what to say. Perhaps they were sympathetic. Maybe they felt I deserved to be cut. Maybe they were afraid if they commiserated with me, their own jobs might be in jeopardy.

I packed my grandchildren’s photos beside my electric pencil sharpener, my continuing education information, my Employee of the Month plaque, and my personal reference books that cluttered the shelf above my desk. It was too soon to take my personal things home but I couldn’t stand to see them in the office that used to be mine. I cleaned out file cabinets and cupboards, worked on paperwork, and finished up a stack of employee evaluations.

A friend told me how God had given her a verse when she left a job with less-than-friendly feelings. “If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” Luke 9:5 (NIV)

Shake the dust off my feet? Not me! I cared too much about my work to leave with a bad attitude.

“Think about it,” she said. “Maybe it just means it’s time to start something new.”

I did have a secret ambition. For years I had spent my free time working on a historical novel. Vacation days were filled with writing conferences and museum visits. Maybe this loss was God’s way of making my other dream possible, the dream of being a writer.

But even the lure of other possibilities didn’t take away the agony of losing my job. Every day I clung to the comfort of my devotional book. Each day the assigned Scripture spoke to me and gave me strength.

It would soon be over. I investigated unemployment insurance and perused the want ads. So what if I had been employee of the month? Now I was unemployed, unsure what my future held.

My boss called me one afternoon. “When is your last day?”

“March 19th.” He should know.

“It doesn’t make sense for you to quit in the middle of the month.”

I wanted to remind him that I hadn’t quit. Maybe he had changed his mind and would let me keep my job. My heart pounded with anticipation.

“Would you consider working through the end of March?”

My heart sank. Everything in me wanted to refuse, to throw it back in his face. He hadn’t thought through the merger of the departments and wasn’t ready for me to leave. Surely God couldn’t expect this of me. Each working day was agony. I wasn’t sure that I could do it for two more weeks.

I felt God’s promise that He would help me, gulped back the anger and agreed to stay until the end of the month while sending up a desperate prayer for strength.

Late into the evenings and early mornings I sat at my computer, finding solace in my writing. A magazine sought essays for an anthology. The response to my submission was positive and immediate. Poems and short stories crowding my desk were taken out and polished. Friends in my writing group urged me to submit them to magazines. I applied for a writer mentorship program and wrote a grant request for a novel workshop. For once, I would have time to do the things I wanted.

At the same time I felt such anguish about my job loss, I felt a growing exhilaration about new possibilities.

Finally, it was my last day. My devotion that morning spoke of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness when the Holy Spirit led him into the desert to be tempted by the devil for forty days. I picked up the calendar and counted the days from the first notice to my last day on the job. It was exactly forty days.

This realization put things into perspective and gave me strength for that final day of work when my mascara washed away before I even got to the office for all the goodbyes. I was exhausted. It was over. I had made it with God’s help.

The next morning, my designated Scripture passage was Luke 9:5 (NIV), “If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” It was no coincidence.

Someone once told me that with every closed door, God opens a window. It was time to let go and start anew. Mentally I shook the dust off my feet and turned on my computer.

~Candace Simar

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