"Don't try to change the world, Katie," he advised. I had stopped to say good-bye, having heard that it was his last day and wanting to share my best wishes. "It seems like a great idea - exciting and meaningful - but it ends up with you all alone and failing."
"I'm sorry," I said, squeezing his shoulder in sympathy and affection as it shrugged. "You should be happier in this new job though, right?"
"Maybe," he replied. "I just know this isn't working and left before they made the choice to force me out. The funny thing? I can point to the decision that brought me here. I wanted to do something new and different. And it was far more difficult than I ever dreamed."
I walk Chienne each morning, waiting semi-patiently while she sniffs and snuffles. Of late, we've been skirting the corner at the bottom of the hill on which my house perches. It's where the neighborhood children wait for the school bus.
So when we emerge before 6:45 - me in pajamas and Chienne on her leash - the older group lingers in a cloud of perfume. It burns my eyes when we move past, so I blink at the younger boy who waits past the tree some 10 yards from the corner. His glasses perch on his nose and jacket hangs from small shoulders and he watches - but does not interact with - the older group.
He simply waits, standing there away from the corner, until they leave so that he can take his place at the curb to wait for the next bus. And, a bit of an early bird myself, I smile at him, feeling a mixture of hope and despair as I wonder if he worries - as I did - about being late. Being unliked. Embarrassed. Unsuccessful.
Upon asking a second time for them to vacate my conference room so I could prepare it for my very important visitor, I raised an eyebrow at the leader who motioned me out of the room.
"I'm sorry," I said, my tone indicating otherwise, "but I do have it reserved and our guest has arrived."
"I'm sorry," he replied with a glare. "But you should respect that these people have been let go and this is their final meeting about severence."
I blinked at him, unsure of what to say other than my 'then the room should have been reserved' which did not at all convey my sympathy and horror that it might someday be me in there - hearing some trite final words before being asked to leave before the rest of the staff arrived on campus.
I recalled that something like 12% of companies are planning lay-offs next year. And it all seemed hopeless - the travel and plans and documents and visitors. So I said brief prayers as they moved from the room and threw myself into the distraction of my guest for the remainder of the day, eager to forget.
"So what's the plan?" I asked my former colleague, looking around at his box of belongings. "If not to change the world?"
"Just make it through the next day," he sighed and I smiled and motioned for him to stand so I could give him a hug.
"Be happy as you're making it through those days," I ordered gently and with a final pat on his arm, waved farewell before leaving his office.
I returned to my house after making our typical loop and my heart was happy to hear him - the boy with glasses - laugh, surrounded by the group of girls who live nearby. He has a good laugh - lilting and happy - and I wondered if his mom made him come out early to wait.
Perhaps he's never worried. Always successful. Popular and fun.
Ready, willing and able to change the world.