No matter how fast she wiped a tear away, another flowed just behind—her hands steadily alternating cheeks with modest effectiveness, up and out, yet she never lost her cadence. She proved steadfast, determined, poised and super-intelligent. I asked if she wanted to take a break but she declined—she was on a roll. Had I been her counselor and not a restaurant owner looking to fulfill our next leadership role, it might possibly have been considered a breakthrough. Unfortunately, neither of us had a tissue. I leaned in deeply moved, uncomfortable for her, fascinated. I can’t properly define my feelings at the time but I know it was deep, and lasting.
As we whittled final candidates down from a dozen to just a handful, she was literally the 3rd Director interview in a two-week span to sit opposite me and be overcome by emotion. She was a forty-something professional woman with a resume that made my head spin. She had battled illness relative to asbestos and the subsequent shuttering of her very first owned-business, after leaving behind great success in the corporate world of foodservice. She had just moved East for a change in scenery, before immediately suffering a house fire that claimed her dog—her “best friend”— whom she credited with teaching her finally “how to love.” She sat opposite me seeking her next, and hopefully, final job.
Only days before, while relaying a weirdly similar story from the same exact seat, a forty-something male-candidate teared up and paused for a deep breath and composure; he had been victimized by crime amidst “losing nearly everything during COVID.” He too was seeking a job that he could “call home for the next 10 years.” His interview had been preceded by yet another professional—who cried while telling me how they were finally returning to Massachusetts after losing a family member, having fled years earlier to escape dysfunction, to begin life anew and pursue both a career and a better sense of self in another state. That emotion surfaced while discussing the shutting of old doors while seeking to open new ones—to find greater purpose, passion and belonging.
“Is it me” I recall asking myself—does my face suggest a safe enough place to let all one’s emotions flow, between the discussions of motivating staff and managing profit and loss? Each story was more tragic than the last, each worthy of deep emotional response. But in reflection, and the admission that with each story they told I too backhanded a tear and felt their pain in my own core, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of all this release was born of the last couple of years of COVID-19 related stress and strain—the omnipresent uncertainty and burden of a soul-crippling pandemic.
Since March of 2020 I have both inherently and consciously plotted, planned and strategized many of the steps to the saving of our businesses through the efforts of our small loyal team without ever losing sight of their own potential duress; these interviews perhaps providing a true graphic of what has laid just beneath the surface for so many.
As the specter of disease, loss, confusion and conflict finally abates, at least for the time being, I continue to wrestle with how hard to push against how tolerant to remain, as we continue to rebuild and reestablish our environments and training, and the systems and secureness that it took decades to create, yet just a single month to devastate. I sadly regret not having the resources to bring each of these terrific and tragic people aboard—knowing we would create great success together; their motivation and humanity powerful forces with which to move forward.
Thank you for reading! For those of you who may want to follow my writing now that Merrimack Valley Magazine has sadly shuttered, my column will continue here–until such time….