Dela Vkusa

When I came into work today there were large groups of people gathered around a set of tables in the café area where the employees' entrance is. Surrounding these throngs were smaller groupings of recognizable faces from the company all talking and nodding. Although many people like to start their day in this part of the campus with breakfast or whatever, it was pretty clear from the atmosphere around it all that something different was going on.

Once I sat down at my desk it didn't take long to discover that a longstanding employee of the company who is married to one of the more visible management team members had suffered an aneurysm the night before and was recovering in the hospital. I know and have worked with both people, but not often enough to be considered close. Not that I didn't feel the initial blow of shock and concern, and not that I didn't take the first opportunity I could to go downstairs and sign the well-wishing cards that were spread out on the tables people had been congregating around that morning -- but that simply because of time and circumstance I found myself in many ways on the outside of this tragic event looking in.

The core group of employees here have been together a long time -- which is probably why this particular event hit so hard across the building. Mainly because for a lot of the people here, the couple at the center of this storm are more than just managers or coworkers -- they are dinner guests, golf partners, and neighbors.

It was a situation that left me feeling like a distant cousin at a large family reunion, one that reminded me of the times when I was still married and found myself stuck at events with extended in-laws where the only person I really knew was my ex-wife, who was nowhere to be found as she was swept up in the tide of uncles and aunts she hadn't seen since childhood (a scenario that was surely mirrored any time she accompanied me to gatherings of with my own family).
There's an inside, and there's an outside -- and there's nothing do be done with it but
keep the people you know in your thoughts and hope that everything comes out all right.
Unfortunately in situations like this there is only so much you can do, and inevitably the groups that gather in hopes of finding solace ebb back into their daily routines, leaving behind tidepools of scattered conversations among passers by asking if you've heard any news, or spreading whatever information they might have at the time. But once that exchange has completed, many of these conversations are left with few other places to go. You want to help, you wish there was something more you could do, but too many times there's nothing you can do but try to find a way to lessen the weight of your fears. Which is why when faced with an event like this, a lot of us resort to a similar coping mechanism:
Relating the experience to similar events in our own lives.
A big part of my job is walking around and getting approval signatures from various department heads and engineers. The means it's pretty common for me to make rounds all over the company to find the people I need to talk to. There are other ways I could probably do this, but I prefer personal interaction over the easily-ignored coldness of inter-office mail.
dela vkusa - it's a matter of taste.
That being said, dropping in on people's desks the way I do means that I am subject to their schedules and convenience. Some people don't have time to sign, some people have waaaay too much time to gab once they've signed. And frequently -- I catch people already having conversations when I show up to see if I can get them to sign.
Which happened a lot today.
I'd walk up with my stacks of papers and approval forms to find one or two coworkers mulling over their coffee cups as they discussed the situation happening with the manager and his wife. Details were repeated, worries were expressed, and then people started talking about how they did their best to deal with the emotions that accompanied one of their own family members falling sick. Or getting in an accident. Or having some sort of surgery.

..Or being diagnosed with cancer.

I don't know why it is, I wish it wasn't the case -- but I think part of crossing over into adulthood in this given day and age is the number of people you encounter whose worlds have been scarred even in passing by this disease. It's a word some people don't even like to say. But what I've come to learn in the past year or so is that once someone actually does say it, it's usually not too long before you hear it a second time.

And so I found myself more than a few times today happening upon instances of well-intended smalltalk dealing with the kind of worry that comes when you're faced with that horrible diagnosis. Several times from relatives of survivors, or from those who are dealing with it now. Conversations I knew all too well. Conversations I could certainly offer my share of insights into. Conversations that regardless of how emotionally difficult to engage in probably provide the kind of momentary solace that might do me more good than I might actually realize (or want to admit).
Conversations I ultimately avoided.
It surprises me sometimes how easily the scab can be peeled away from the scar. Just how red, how sensitive, how vulnerable the skin underneath can be. Days go by, life goes on. You know what you have to do. You've seen what happens when you stand in that one place. You know you can't do that. What's more, you know that the people talking about that subject aren't in the same place you are. That your story is similar -- but doesn't end the way people need to hear at a time like this.
But I know better than to claim that I didn't add my voice to that fray just to protect someone else.

[Listening to:    Sonic Youth"Bull in the Heather" ]