On Sunday, I shared a testimony at the congregation I attend. The theme was "Do Not Be Afraid." I had three examples of fearful incidents that I wanted to share, because despite the scariness of the moment I experienced them, I still have faith that I'm somewhat protected from real harm or that the experience leads to a greater good.
I began by saying: "I think fear is an interesting emotion. We have seen politicians use fear to manipulate us into supporting policies that they want. We have seen religions use fear of an unpleasant afterlife to gain members. I don't think fear is necessarily a bad thing. Its how we respond to it that matters."
Then, I related my experience in Johannesburg, South Africa as a young man of 22, excited to see the country that had elected Nelson Mandela as their first African president one hundred days earlier. I've shared this experience enough times on this blog, so I don't want to repeat myself here. In my testimony, I shared the experience of being robbed at knife point by a group of young Africans and how it was terrifying at the time. The resolution, though, was that these men lived on so little and had a much harsher life than mine, and because they only took material things from me, without injuring me, it was rather easy to forgive (about six months later). What I gained from the experience was a lot more than the approximately $700 in cash, property, and inconveniences (paying for a new passport, replacing the safety deposit box key, etc) that they took from me. It was my "born again experience."
The second experience I related was when I was riding on MARTA (Atlanta's subway system). Two young men got into a shouting match and each had threatened the other with: "Do you want to see my piece?" It was an ego clash between two Alpha male thugs, one of them in a wheelchair. Since I was the only white guy on the train, I was very scared and my first thought was, "If bullets start flying, I'm as good as dead." I looked at the other passengers and no one said anything. The only thing you could "see" was fear. It was as clear as day. Everyone was just good people going about their day and I saw quite a few bowed heads. I knew that people were praying for this situation to diffuse itself without guns. In my mind, I kept saying, "Its not worth it, its not worth it!" I was hoping that my mantra had the power to make one of the guys back off from this stupid battle of who's the biggest bad-ass. When the train came to the next stop, which happened to be the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Station, one of them young men exited the train and once the doors closed, you could actually feel the tension in that car dissipate into the ether. It was an amazing experience, actually. To this day, I believe that the power of prayer influenced one of the men to exit the train before the argument turned physical. Perhaps he did decide that "It wasn't worth it" (whatever they were arguing about).
The final fear that I shared was actually the most emotional one. I could hear it in my voice and I was so afraid of breaking down. I had no idea that it was still raw and I have no idea why I am able to tell people in conversation about the ordeal without breaking up, but put me in front of everyone and behind a podium, and all the sudden, I can't control my emotions. Anyhow, I started off by saying, "Those two episodes I just shared reflect a lot of people's fear: being robbed or being a victim to violence. However, for me, my worst fear has always been something else. When I was a high school senior facing the scary adult world, my worst fear was that I would be stuck in a job that I hated for the rest of my life. That fear came true in the last job that I had..."
I shared a little bit about my ordeal, a little nervous because there are some members in the congregation who are active volunteers in this organization that shall never be named (I just refer to it as "That Awful Place"). People have no idea how bad this place is, especially for me who never liked the organization, as a teenager or as an adult. I never dreamed one day that I would grow up and work for such an organization for the rest of my life.
I told the congregation that in 2007 and especially 2009, I was in a dark place...so dark that I even contemplated ending it all if changes didn't happen. Somehow, I endured. My faith in God collapsed in December 2009, though (I didn't share that there were other reasons for this, besides being in the job I hated more than anything else in life). I mentioned that for 2010, I had decided to make a series of small changes in the hope that it would lead to a bigger change in my situation. I also mentioned working to rebuild my faith in God, which I did throughout 2010. I didn't mention all the drama in the last couple of months that finally pushed me to willful defiance and my ultimate dismissal. I just mentioned that when I was at the employment office, attending the workshops, what the government employees share with us are ways to keep our spirits up when we are out of work. A lot of people were depressed and angry about being fired. I told the congregation, when I looked around the room at all these people who were sad or angry about losing their jobs, I thought, "Am I the only one who was happy to have gotten fired?" The congregation laughed at this! Which is a relief, because they didn't laugh at some other things I shared (I always strive to get a few good laughs out of my testimony. Its not all doom and gloom). I ended by saying that I still had no idea why I had to endure this experience for so long, and maybe I'll know someday or never, but I really learned a lot about myself and how much I will tolerate before it becomes intolerable. I hope that the experience has made me a better person.
Sharing a personal testimony is risky, because you never know how people will respond. Quite a few people came up afterwards and thanked me for my testimony and wanted to share horror stories as well. I appreciated that. Its nice to hear other people's experiences with a job from hell. Then there are those that I suspected avoided me afterwards, one even avoiding eye contact as he rushed past me. Weird. I don't get people. This was raw vulnerability, to share what I did. When other people give testimonies in church, I love it because I learn more about them and if we hadn't spoken before, I am able to find my "way in" to initiate a conversation with them.
What do I know about fear? Based on what I've read and what I've experienced, fear is a useful emotion that helps us to survive. We get the adrenaline rush and the urgency to act in order to move to safety. It forces us to be in the moment and prompt us to seek a safer place. From that safer place, we can analyze our fears and maybe seek the roots of the fear.
Fear is bad when we simply react and become people we don't want to be (for example: the scenario of waterboarding potential terror suspects in the vain hope that we will save hundreds or thousands of lives if they confess a plot being hatched). We shouldn't use our fears to become monsters and do harm to other people.
With my worst fear having been realized and I lived to see that it wasn't for the rest of my life, I am finally able to move on to a better life. Incidentally, I learned recently that the guy who fired me got a promotion to be the head guy at an office somewhere in Washington State. Man, I feel sorry for those employees to get one of the lousiest managers I've ever seen (Mr. hides in his office because he's afraid of the employees and doesn't do a damn thing to boost office morale). There has also been a retirement and a couple of employees leaving. It appears that people are wanting off that sinking boat. The solution is simple: if you want to change the office dynamic and rid the place of negative energy, they need to fire at least seven people. The seven who contribute to the ongoing dysfunctions of that office.
But who cares? I'm so blessed to be out of there and appreciative of my new job, which is such a great karma job. I only wish the pay was a bit better, which simply means that my search for a better career hasn't probably ended. I'm just taking a much needed break after an exhausting four year struggle of searching for an exit from the worst nightmare of my life. When my life ends some day, I really hope that "That Awful Place" will still hold the record as "the worst place I've ever worked."