BY: Helen Stein
We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.
The ringing of the telephone greeted me as I walked into the house after another long, stressful week at the office. I tossed my purse on the kitchen counter and glanced at the caller ID screen on the phone. It was a call from the staffing company that sent me my paycheck for the last twenty years. With a sense of dread, I slowly picked up the receiver. The voice at the other end of the line informed me that today would be my last day on the job because my services were no longer needed. My inner strength trickled down to my toes and my heart beat faster as I cleared my throat and remembered to breathe.I swallowed hard and said, "Are they going to hire another person to do my job?"
Her voice sounded a little too perky as she answered, "No. The company has been downsizing, and we are sorry, but they eliminated your position. However, you are eligible to receive severance pay, and please let us know if there is anything we can do to help."
I stumbled through the rest of the conversation trying to come up with good reasons for them to keep me -- as if I could change her mind. After all, the office would still need someone to maintain department records, create correspondence, edit the newsletter and take care of numerous other tasks. I knew that it wasn't her decision, and in the end, all I could do was sigh and accept my fate.
I walked over to the mirror that decorates the living room wall. Hazel eyes with long, dark lashes stared back at me through gold, wire-rimmed glasses. There were a few wrinkles around my mouth, and the skin under my chin sagged a bit. A picture of a rooster's wattle popped into my head, and at that moment I felt like an old hen that had been booted out of the coop.
That life-changing day was also my wedding anniversary. Ken and I had been married for thirty-eight years. We were going out to dinner the next night to celebrate. Well, now we could also celebrate my early retirement. The problem was that I wasn't ready to retire and my income helped to defray the high cost of gas, food, and medication that we both needed. I felt betrayed. I worked hard for that company and gave them twenty good years of my life. In spite of that, I knew the company's new quest -- to become a "big fish" in the trucking industry -- called for restructuring. Experienced, dedicated employees were being trimmed like excess fat from a big, juicy steak. I always knew that sooner or later the cleaver would swing my way.
When Ken came home from work that evening, I gave him a big anniversary hug. I didn't know how to tell him the bad news, so I just blurted it out. "Happy anniversary, hon, and by the way, I was laid off today."
He looked a little stunned, and I thought I saw a few more strands of his salt-and-pepper hair turn gray. He raised his hand to his forehead. "Wow! You really know how to jazz up an occasion. Happy anniversary. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. At least I think I'm okay. Pinch me to make sure I'm not dreaming. No, wait... that might hurt."
Ken said, "For now, why don't you think of it as a well-deserved, long vacation. The weather will soon be warm, and you'll have a lot of time to work in your garden. We'll cut back on our expenses. We'll only go out to eat once a month and this year we'll spend our vacation at home -- we'll find some good, inexpensive day trips to take. And, don't worry, I'm sure we can find more cuts to make in our budget."
"I think you're right," I said. "I'll bet I could trim our grocery bill by using the extra time to cook and not have to buy those expensive convenience foods."
So I filed for unemployment benefits and adopted Ken's strategy. I had to admit that it was easier to rise and shine in the morning without being rudely awakened by the urgent beeping of my alarm clock. I didn't miss sitting in traffic during early morning rush hour. I went grocery shopping on a weekday morning and enjoyed the ease of shopping without the pushy, annoying weekend crowd of people who block the aisles and stand right in front of the product I need to grab. I even bought a guidebook about North American feeder birds to help me identify the songbirds that come to my birdfeeder during the winter months.
All of a sudden, my world slowed down to a more enjoyable pace. I found time to dig in my garden, read, make daily entries in my journal, take an online writing class, and spend more quality time with my grandchildren. I discovered a new kind of happiness, and my fear of fading into oblivion dissolved. I am now eager to discover how the next chapter in my life will unfold, and since I can't travel back in time (and I'm not sure that I would want to) I will forge ahead and think positive. I may even crow a happy tune in the early morning hours.