New Beginnings

Having been alerted to expect Dan and escort him to my office, Barbra had been waiting for him with a visitor’s badge when he approached the front desk. Minutes later he was seated at my conference table nursing a fresh cup of hot decaffeinated tea, made with milk and Splenda™, the way Dan had said he liked it.
Wanting to avoid any awkwardness, I hit it head on, “Not too traumatic coming back, I hope.”

“A little strange sensation just as I came in, but no, I’m fine with this. Having Barbra down there was a nice stroke. She’s always had such a pleasant manner about her, she made me feel good about being here again. Thanks.”

“Her idea. She said she’s always liked you from those days when she worked in your group in Plant 6.”

Settling into a chair at my conference table, Dan came right to the point. “After our last talk, I spent a lot of time pondering the various ways I might help with your predicament. I mapped out the several areas of the business you said needed attention, and the result looked an awful lot like the makings of an ‘org chart’!”

When he was in his comfort zone, talking about things he knew a lot about, nobody I’d ever seen was better at cutting through and nailing down what needed to be done than Dan. With that, he unfolded a legal-size sheet on which his notations formed a crudely drawn layout of our basic departmental structure.

“As you see, and as we might expect,” he continued without looking up or pausing for anything I might want to add, “the things we said needed addressing can be arranged in a relatively orderly fashion. That being the case, we can start by examining the relationships among the major processes as they exist now – what I would call the Today Picture, or no, maybe we’d better call it the Before Picture,” and he crossed out the old wording, entering the new ones instead. He quickly sketched in smaller, empty boxes and symbols under each major box on the chart to represent each process flow. “The way things happen today is represented by each major part of your organization.” Along the bottom of the page, his pencil deftly produced a big square in which he entered a title to identify it as corresponding to each of the sections at the top. “Next, we can show just how we think the After Picture should appear.” As he spoke, his expression showed his confidence was high, and as he concluded, his hand swept across the page, inviting my perusal.

Looking at me expectantly, Dan fell silent, giving me the chance to respond. “Well, Dan, I really appreciate all the thought you’ve put in on this thing up to now . . . ” I couldn’t help it, but I was struggling with my words, trying to hide both my befuddlement, and my disappointment with what I now saw as nothing new or exciting. After all, we’d covered this approach earlier, and I was really looking for something truly new, different and inspiring, only to see what looked like old news. My first concern was to avoid at all costs the possibility that my reaction now might really hurt Dan’s feelings — he’d somehow learned to cope with all the trauma and mental anguish associated with having to leave the company, and the last thing I wanted was to cause him more grief.

Cautiously I moved the conversation forward, “I’m sure I must be missing something, Dan. I mean, I see and understand where you’re coming from here, but it isn’t really clear how all of this ties together. Can you help me?”

All of a sudden he started laughing and I braced myself, thinking surely I hadn’t just tripped him over the edge . . . surely all his good intentions (and mine as well) weren’t resulting in his falling apart?

“Of course!” he cried as he bounced the palm of his hand against his forehead. My stomach tightened like someone had just punched me and I became rigid as though expecting another blow to follow.

“I’m sorry, John. Of course it doesn’t make any sense ’cause you see, in my delight with my own grand design I forgot to fill in the most important part. Look here,” he said as he pulled a smaller page from his inside jacket pocket, “I should have placed this section between the Before and After parts to show just how these concepts are supposed to work.” A new line of squares appeared from left to right across the middle of the larger page, each bearing the name of someone I didn’t recognize.

“Now, as you can see, I simply run these red arrows from top to bottom, linking all three rows to each other, and voila! We see the source I propose we use for unearthing just what stands between you and your people as you work today, with the better tomorrow you envision. And as you’re no doubt wondering, the people whose names appear on the chart are possible resources for helping examine the Weixx-Corp situation.”

I urged him on: “I’m all ears!

“Well, you know very often we have what we need to solve problems right under our noses, but we’re too close and involved to see ’em. I told you when we first met in the park that I’d found such inner peace once I’d gotten past the initial shock of being laid off. What I didn’t tell you then was how important the New Beginnings support group was to my healing process. You’ve probably never even heard of them, have you, John?”

I shook my head, and Dan said, “No, I didn’t think so. There’d be no reason for people to know about us unless they, or someone close to them, had fallen into the situations we have all experienced. “Several months ago, it became apparent to a group of ministers, priests, and rabbis that a growing number of members from their congregations were suffering from the effects of all the layoffs and outright firings taking place in local businesses. As members of the local Ministerial Council, they recognized that all those in need required counseling on an individual basis, but they also needed a means to continue having interaction with peers and former colleagues; a means to continue socializing on a more or less professional basis.
You see, John, as soon as you lose your job you have this overwhelming feeling you’re lost — that you’ve failed. Often in the middle of the night, as well as every morning when you wake up, you’re hit with the chilling realization you have no place to go. You have no way to bring home a paycheck. You can’t go to the work place that day — the same place where you associated with so many people only yesterday. And, as I told you a while back, you feel so damned ashamed because you’re certain you’ve hurt your family. You’ve let them down. That, somehow, you’ve been found lacking in the most profound way, and you may even really begin to resent your former co-workers who still have their jobs. There’s more, of course, but trust me, it’s a terrible thing to go through and I hope you never have it happen to you.”

If I expected to see tears or any sadness in his eyes, neither was there. Though his voice told of the pain and frustration he had endured, Dan was still at peace with himself and I was glad. I, however, felt the sting of it in my watery eyes as I recognized the truth of his words, and thought how many people I’d seen enter the ranks Dan was describing. For a moment or two, I was also reminded how little I had known about their personal circumstances one those individuals had left our ranks, and that realization added to the emotions now aroused in me.

Appearing not to notice my reaction, Dan rose out of his chair to lean over the table and place the drawings closer for me to see as he explained, “So, here’s the deal. The people I’ve named in these blocks were chosen because most of them have spent as many or more years in their specialty areas as you and I have in ours.” Tapping on each box as he went along, Dan underscored the relevance to me of his idea: “Represented here are people who were and are damned good in their specialty areas. They span finance, product development, marketing, sales, HR, warehousing and logistics, general management, administration, and I/T – every vital area of most business organizations today. Though the progress of these people towards finding a new direction for themselves necessarily varies from person to person, each is committed and most will eventually succeed. But, it takes time and a lot of patience with themselves and patience on the part of their family and friends. In the meantime, it’s my belief the pace and burden of their journeys can be accelerated by active involvement in your project the same way mine has.”

There seemed to be only one appropriate response for me. “Okay, Dan, but how?”

“Our next move is to have you attend one of our meetings at the Episcopal church across the street from the library. You’ll see how the meetings are run, get to hear something about the backgrounds and predicaments of each member

Dan was now a man on a mission, and I sensed it could well prove to be a new beginning for me as well.



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