If you’re going to do something, my dad used to say, do it right.
Mostly he said that after my halfhearted attempts to weed the vegetable garden. He would look at the pile of green weeds and notice that there were almost no roots attached to the leaves and stems. For some reason that absolutely eluded me at the time, he didn’t even have to look around the garden to know that there were white roots still buried deep in the ground, and that within a few days the garden would look like I had never weeded it.
Because he knew that, for the most part, I hadn’t.
And so I would inevitably end up out in the garden again the next day – and, if necessary, the next and the next – with a spade and a trowel in hand to dig deep and get down to the roots of our garden-variety garden issues. As much as I tried to focus my admittedly limited attention span on the songs on the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album while I was digging, Dad’s words kept echoing in my mind: “Do it right.”
I saw a perfect example of what Dad was talking about last week when one of the teams within the company for which I work was laid off. These were six terrific folks – industrious, talented, dedicated and extraordinarily pleasant around the office. Unfortunately, their project had run its course. All of us who worked with them were sad to see them go. We knew we would miss them. They were good friends and colleagues, and we worried about them. This is not exactly the economy in which you would choose to be unemployed – you know?
And frankly, at such times you always wonder: Am I next?
But as we watched these folks during the week they were given to close out and pack up, many of us noticed that they weren’t handling this sobering vicissitude in quite the way we expected them to. While it was clear they were troubled at the prospect of leaving – none of them that I talked to had another job lined up – there was also no bitterness or anger or angst in their departure. I didn’t hear a negative word from any of them. I didn’t see any tears or unhappy faces – at least, not from them. Instead, I saw grace. Class. Style.
“It’s amazing,” one of my colleagues whispered. “I went over there to offer comfort and support to them, and they ended up comforting me.”
On their penultimate day in the office, two of the women who were laid off set up an electric skillet in the lunchroom and spent three hours making more than 200 thick, delicious homemade corn tortillas that they stuffed with ham and turkey to serve to their soon-to-be-former colleagues. Dozens of people came from all over the building to eat, talk, console and be consoled by the relentless buoyancy of these unflappable, unflustered, imperturbable people.
Since my cubicle is right by the lunchroom – handy and convenient unless someone burns their microwave popcorn – I could watch as my co-workers emerged from the impromptu soirée, munching on the last of their tortillas as they dried their tears or shook their heads in a mystified mix of wonder, puzzlement and awe.
The ancient Greeks believed that swans save their sweetest song for the moments just prior to their death. I don’t know if my departing friends viewed their dénouement as a “swan song” or not, but the calm, quiet dignity with which they embraced their harsh new reality touched, inspired and bewildered all who watched it.
Lee, a veteran who has seen and survived more than his share of lay-offs during almost 40 up-and-down, on-again-off-again years with the company, summed it up nicely for all of us. As he emerged from the lunchroom he paused and looked back at the tortilla bash, and then looked directly at me, smiling broadly.
“Now, that’s doing it right,” he said.
Somewhere, I just know Dad was smiling his approval.