Figure Out What's Next

After the Earthquake

career change richard lawton Apr 08, 2009

by Richard Lawton

photo by Angelo Giordano

Inner tension builds when you decide to “stay the course” and put off responding to a “calling”

Hearing the news of the earthquakes that devastated parts of central Italy the first week of April 2009 served as another reminder of the uncertainty and preciousness of this life, and the importance of not squandering it.

It also reminded me of another earthquake in late 2005 in India and northern Pakistan. Final estimates are that it killed 100,000 people and left 3.5 million people homeless. I had been grappling with the question of whether to change the course of my life or not. I had a vague but growing sense that I was being called to make some significant changes, but my rational mind kept coming up with a long list of very practical reasons to keep doing what I was doing. I made a good living, was able to provide for my family and take nice vacations, liked and respected the people I worked with and had a nice title of “Senior Vice President.”

Both of my children were working towards rites of passage in the form of graduations (college and high school), and I somehow felt I was approaching one of my own. After much internal debate, I had pretty much decided that it would be foolish to leave what I had, and that I should be grateful for what most people would envy—and feel a little guilty for not appreciating it more—so I should “stay the course,” keep my nose to the grindstone and put any dreams on hold, at least for the time being.

I heard the news of the Indian earthquake on the radio as I drove to the airport for a business trip. During an unexpected delay at the airport, I realized that the matter was far from settled when I wrote this:

Gate 105

rushing to catch my morning flight
driving through a non-stop downpour
i make it with no time to spare
as the plane taxis to the runway
a “maintenance issue” forces us
to return to gate 105
impatient to know what the problem is
demanding to know when we’ll leave
my fellow travelers stand in line at the counter
complaining of inconvenience
and the disruption of their plans
noticing some of the same feelings
i’m secretly glad for the delay
the face in the restroom mirror looks tired
...only then do i realize i feel tired
in the hallway by the waiting area
departure monitors list
gates to places i’ve been before
gates to places i’d like to visit someday
gates to places where i have no desire to ever go
one gate leads to a place where in one short minute
over a million people lost their homes
over twenty thousand lost their lives
where right now parents are digging their children’s
lifeless bodies out of the rubble of what used to be a school
fidgety, and with my own concerns
i rejoin my fellow travelers in line
then decide to sit back down and be still long enough to feel
a familiar but freshly worded question shake loose
from an inner tension that’s become my
constant traveling companion
“am i sitting outside the right gate?”


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