I’ve been hoarding this for a full week, since 5/13/11. Yet for every Friday the 13th, there comes a Friday the 20th. I’ve told almost no one, signifying my residual tendency to feel shame and blame for failures that aren’t actually my own. But there is no point in concealing life’s evident or formless ruptures, or in committing a delaying tactic that only serves to postpone whatever is next in the letdown queue. Thankfully, I have arrived at my Friday the 20th. I will give the account as I see it, and carry on.
Last Friday afternoon, at the end of a busy day visiting terminally ill patients, I was called into the office to be told that, as I was approaching the end of a 3-month probationary period at my new job, the administration was exercising their option of letting me go while they can do so without offering me reasons or assigning “cause”. Indeed, the messengers of this news really told me nothing about why this split is being rendered. And if you are asking, can they do this?, I can only say, yes they can. I may be a strong person, but I recognize, in situations such as these, that I’m basically powerless.
It would seem that the incompatibility that cannot be overcome here is my volunteer relationship with the organization Compassion and Choices and its conflict with my employer’s allegiance to Catholic values about end-of life options. I volunteer for C&C, a nonprofit agency that provides support for those who seek to control their own deaths. In my state of Washington this is a legal option voted into law by ballot measure that allows physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to people who are dying, so the individual can control the time and place and circumstances of their death. The law does not consider this choice in any way the equivalent of suicide, only the individual’s right to exercise some control in an inevitable death, just as we give similar right to medical professionals to intervene in end-of-life suffering, even where such medical intervention may hasten death. The law also allows physicians and institutions to opt out of participation in the law, which is referred to generally as Death with Dignity. The many Catholic health systems in the state have all opted out of participation in this law, just as none of them provide abortion services.
Of course this came up during my several interviews for this job and I never concealed my relationship with C&C. I expressed an unconditional willingness to abide by the values of the organization while at work, but stated clearly that I also expected my values to be respected. I also said, during the interview stage that, if asked, I would stop my volunteer work with Compassion and Choices, so much did I want this job. I did not actually expect to be asked to do so, however. In my thinking, it would seem imprudent to proscribe legal activities as a condition of employment. But, when I was eventually told directly by my manager that I must stop this volunteer work, I did agree to do so, with the caveat that I had obligations that I would complete first, rather than abandoning the clients I am currently working with. This apparently was not a satisfactory answer. And I was torn over the reality that I was actually agreeing to compromise my own integrity for a job. But I think I was willing to do so, certainly I have compromised my integrity in many previous jobs. This is not news to any of you, I am sure. But it was hounding me, as you can well imagine.
It is important for me to pause here to say that I’ve had a lovely week. The weather has turned from dark and rainy to sunny and warm, the evening light is stretching out towards 9PM and I have been working in the garden and sending off poems. I have read a great deal of poetry and two novels this week. I don’t feel as upset as possibly I should about not having a job. I am confident that I could, if need be, downsize and live a simple writer’s life. Of course, I have been worried about my patients, missing my colleagues, and am feeling the toll of the emotional investment that I had already made in this job. But ultimately, I only do this end-of-life work because I feel compelled to do it, not because I’m particularly cut out for it. I don’t fit well into large organizations, I am not a cog-like entity, and I grew up in the sixties with an enduring antipathy to authority. I’m an introvert, and somewhat of a hermit. Honestly, I’m not a very good corporate fit, in the estimation of most of the managers I have endured (and who have likewise endured me) in the healthcare field.
I am experiencing a remarkable equanimity about my plight. The decision to make is this one: to seek another institutional job or to follow a course that doesn’t include a job. For now, between reading, writing and gardening, I am applying for unemployment and sending out resumes.