Yesterday evening a coworker got “laid off,” a nice word for “fired.” She came into my office and around my desk to give me a very quick hug and leave me her phone number in case I had any job leads. I stood there stunned, as I had no inkling of what was happening to her until I saw the Human Resources representative helping her load boxes of her personal belongings onto a cart. She was to be “walked off” the premises. I suppose there are more ignominious ways for a person to be “let go” than to take the walk of shame from one’s desk, down the hallway, onto the elevator and out the door of the building where one has worked for several years. There could be a more egregious affront to a person’s dignity, but for the moment, I can’t imagine what it is.
Eleven years ago, I took the walk of shame after I had been “laid off” for a relatively minor infraction that coincided with layoffs that were scheduled to happen due to budget difficulties. I had little doubt that my position was on the chopping block, but by “letting me go” early on a bogus infraction, they got out of paying me severance or any kind of negotiated benefit. It was a weak and cowardly way to handle things, and I was rocked in numb disbelief at what was happening. I had to pack up my stuff–searching for boxes and packing materials–and clean anything personal off my computer.
To make matters worse, I could not speak to anyone about what was happening to me. A work friend dropped by as I was packing and saw what I was doing. “I can’t tell you what is happening,” I told her, “but can you help me find a few more boxes?” Blessedly she didn’t question anything, and helped supply the needed materials. Another work friend stopped by and took in the scene. I told her one line and let her do with it what she would. By the end of the day, I was ready for the walk of shame. Two friends walked me to the elevator–the institution was too small to have someone to walk me out–and ironically, I ended up on the elevator with the person who had decided to fire me. I actually had some presence of mind and said, “Good evening,” to them. They said good evening back and we rode down in awkward silence.
I have spent many years forgiving that person, am still working on forgiveness. But I have not forgotten what happened, nor the feelings associated with it. Later that day I wept bitter, angry tears. I talked to an attorney, and took steps to put the best face on having been part of a “reduction in force” from the institution. I went through the five stages of grief over and over again in the days and months that passed. I don’t think I went through a bargaining phase. After all, how do you bargain with injustice? But I definitely went through anger, denial, and depression, and finally landed at acceptance. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”
Jesus had his own walk of shame. I will talk about this more as we get closer to the time of the passion and crucifixion, but I do want to mention his long walk. When he was taken into custody by the Roman officials, it seemed that everything was focused on shaming him. From the crown of thorns placed on his head, to the taunts of the torturers, and those participating in the crucifixion itself, everything was about not only battering and bruising his body, but shaming him and bruising his spirit. Jesus’s walk of shame is called the “Via Dolorosa,” or “the painful way.” His walk to the crucifixion site is captured in many biblical stories. The actual route he traveled might be different from what is currently considered the via dolorosa, but it’s not the route I want to focus on, it’s the state of mind one has to be in to experience it.
My coworker was not walking to her death, and perhaps she walked out with her head held high, experiencing no shame whatsoever. I don’t know. I didn’t see her when she actually left and it didn’t occur to me to accompany her to the door and say goodbye. I can’t say if I was fearful of embarrassing her or of being ashamed that she was let go in the manner she was, but either way, I was not as present for her as I could have been.
During these 40 days, we have a lot of time and total permission to be introspective and reflect on the impact that various life experiences have had and are having on our current spiritual and natural lives. I know and have walked the path of shame, and perhaps even a painful path. But I have learned from each painful and difficult step what I needed to learn, including what I am made of and how strong I am, as well as when I need to surrender and let go. It can indeed be a painful way, but it need not be a shameful way, if we can know within ourselves what is true and stand tall in that truth. So much to think about during these 40 days. And so we shall.