Friday, February 23, 2007

People who normally would not mix

We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds. We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful. We are like the passengers of a great liner the moment after rescue from shipwreck when camaraderie, joyousness and democracy pervade the vessel from steerage to Captain's table. Unlike the feelings of the ship's passengers, however, our joy in escape from disaster does not subside as we go our individual ways. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.
(from Alcoholics Anonymous, "There Is A Solution," p. 17)

My friend and co-worker Dave G.'s last day as an employee of The Evil Empire is today. He hasn't even left yet, and I miss him already. But as I contemplated our brief time together, I thought of this passage from the AA text, and how it also applies to my relationship with Dave, as well.

I was at an AA meeting Thursday night when I thought of Dave. My sponsor, Bob S., and I were talking with a new guy named Jon at the end of the meeting. Jon was 25 (maybe), a college dropout, and only 12 days sober; then there was me, nearly 50, 16 years in recovery, and a college graduate; and Bob S. is 76, nearly 46 years sober, and a life-long tool-and-die man who didn't finish 8th grade. Bob's known me since my first night in the fellowship; we'd never seen Jon before.

Yet we understood each other perfectly, because we had been given common experiences which gave us a special fellowship and a common "language of the heart."

In many ways, it is the same with my young friend Dave and I. Dave is 23 today (happy birthday, brother!) and I am a month away from fifty. Dave naturally multi-tasks on about twenty different channels, while I have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time. (A geek friend of mine would say that Dave is definitely USB 2.0, while I am closer to RS-232 serial.) He is a trim, attractive young man in the prime of life - and I am (to be kind) somewhat past that. He is quite comfortable with social drinking - he will likely never grace the tables of the fellowship that I attend regularly.

Externally, we could not be more different.

I've only worked with Dave for about 8 months now - and due to the virtual nature of our work, I think I've only actually met him in person about twice in all that time. But like so many virtual friendships I've already made across the blogosphere, we've managed to develop a special relationship despite the physical distance.

Poor Dave was recruited to The Evil Empire out of college in June; I came here after my ministry career plans soured, eight months earlier. Dave got drafted onto The Client from Hell team, and sometime in his first week or two he got stuck with me, as I was (a) trying desperately to get our weekly payroll operations completed and (b) trying to provide him with a mind-dump of what I knew about the operation and the system we'd been stuck with.

It's a tribute to his durability and resilience that he didn't run screaming from the building....

The crucible that forged our friendship was a series of crushing system failures, our impending year-end processing, the simultaneous effort of recoding a significant portion of our system, and his providing technology to Band-Aid our system together until the recoding was complete. As part of his trying to create specifications out of thin air for the "panic-code" projects we needed, Dave and I spent a lot of time on the phone and in instant-message-land. We discovered a common love for science fiction, dry humor and a certain level of cynicism, and an appreciation for just how much good material Dilbert would have found at our firm. Dave's experiences with many of the folks in EE-Land (like my own) have often been very much like this classic comic:

Which brings me back to my opening quote: We are people who normally would not mix... The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.

It's true that if we had met at a restaurant, or a theatre performance, we would likely never have connected. But we have been through wind, and rain, and fire together - and I have to say it has been a blessing to "trudge the road of happy destiny" with him. In fact, I don't know that I would have made it through without his help - period.

When he first told me of the call from the recruiter, and the offer of a much more lucrative position, he said something to the effect of, "Leaving the job won't be hard - but it will be tough leaving the people" - and I know that many people feel the same way about him. It's amazing that when people of goodwill band together to do good things, a special bond forms that (like the rope of three strands) is not easily broken.

Though Dave's last day as a fellow employee is today, the virtual community of the Internet will ensure that we will be no further apart than email or instant messaging. He will join the binary band of sisters and brothers I have been blessed with in the virtual world - digital disciples working toward a more peaceable kingdom. But in our little band of co-workers, he will leave a hole not easily filled, and I will miss the laughter at work most of all.

The words of singer/songwriter Wayne Watson, perhaps, say it best:

Sometimes I'll think about you
Some old memories'll make me cry
Remembering the good times makes me laugh
But all in all, I'm richer for the happy and the sad
And thankful for a season in your path.

Fare thee well on all the roads thou must travel, my young wizard friend...

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