A Pebble or a Tree

Once you get over the idea that you are somehow irreplaceable, it becomes easier to leave a place — in theory, at least. This notion that I am completely replaceable weighs on me. It hurts on a level so deep that I feel like a vacuum entered some deep region of myself and is slowly sucking away…what? Pride? Sense of self? Denial? Self delusion?

Early on in my position, I came across a file folder we use regularly on the server with the rather odd acronym TANJA. For several months I tried to puzzle out it’s meaning, until finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked my supervisor. “What does TANJA stand for?”

She thought for a moment before replying, “Oh my, I hadn’t thought about her in ages!”

She began asking a few other people there if they remembered Tanja. Mostly they did not. She smiled and said, “Well, she didn’t work here very long.”

As she walked away, I heard her remark, “I had forgotten all about her!”

I thought about that as I went about my day, and I realized that TANJA is me, or would be someday. Someday, no matter how brilliantly I performed my duties, no matter how scrupulously I followed the project guidelines or helped design new ones, no matter the time, attention, diligence, or any other quality I poured into my time here at my Fortune 500 firm, one day I would no longer be here, whether that was in a week, a year or a dozen years from now, and the same thing would one day be said about me.

Someday someone would mention my name and say, “Do you remember her? She worked here back in the day.” Someone might smile, but others around would look at them blankly before returning to their work. Someday I would be the one no one remembered. Period.

I’ve moved a lot and have found this to be true. Each time you leave a community, a group of supposedly tight-knit friends, a church and a job to which you are devoted, people you think are your friends quickly forget you.

I am a pebble in a stream. When I am plucked from that particular stream bed, the water does not cease flowing to remark at my absence, nor do the other pebbles cry out in desolation, but they shift, here and there, until they fill in the spot and there is no sign of my ever having been there. This is painful for me, this knowing, this feeling of being in every sense of the word both replaceable and utterly forgettable.

And so it was that on Sunday I was storing up “lasts”. I was concentrating on the faces of people I have grown to love, interactions between my fellow parishioners that are precious to me, and making a mental scrapbook for the time to come. One lady came to me and was immediately distraught when she heard I was moving. Another lady standing near said, it’s like a tree falling in the woods. That tree lays there until we carry it away, and then there is this empty space where that tree was, and each time we pass it, we think of and miss that tree.

Tears came to my eyes. So much for the mental image of pebbles. This dear friend reminded me that for some people my loss will remain an open gaping hole in the forest of their lives, bearing witness that I was there. I’m holding onto that picture.

For some, my leaving is a pebble in a stream, but for others it is that fallen tree whose presence is still felt in the loss. That’s beautiful and it seals up those leaky spaces where the vacuum of sorrow was stealing away my spirit and making me feel small and unimportant.

To some I am important. And that is enough.

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