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We sat down in the cafeteria at our world marketing headquarters, the closest IBM location to both of us. "Have you been growing your hair, too?" I asked, noticing that the hairstyle of my colleague/mentor/friend was a bit longer than I recalled.
"It's a wig," she answered, looking right into my eyes.
"Oh, God, I wasn't being coy. I had no idea. It's a really good wig. I couldn't tell. I'm sorry." All this exited my mouth because my friend is not the type to wear a wig for fashion. It could only mean that she had none of her own hair left, due to cancer. My heart raced.
"It's OK. I had cancer."
"Lymphoma, but I'm cancer-free now."
"And I'll pray that you remain so."
It was probably the best conversation we ever had, and it hit the spot, since I've been grinding like a bot for, at a minimum, all week so far, including last weekend: We talked about why we work and how we live, and how to kick self-destructive habits.
She asked, "How did your presentation go?"
I had explained that I'd be meeting her right after a web conference I was hosting about my work. "I really enjoyed doing it and I think they did, too, based on the lively text-chat and Q&A."
"So you're enjoying your work."
"You know, on a bad day, when I'm full of my ego, I am disappointed that my assignment [in India] didn't result instantly in a higher status position...but on a good day, like today, I think, I love to do the work I get to do -- I haven't been able to be this experimental, since I helped start up and build the GLBT Sales team."
"Well, good, because all the status doesn't mean anything unless you love what you do."
After 80 minutes together -- I didn't want to have merely a conventional hour together, not after learning that she had beaten cancer, but still -- I said, "I have to tell you what's going through my mind."
"I was supposed to show up to a meeting at 2 o'clock with a draft tip-sheet that we're creating for the Virtual Worlds workshop we're giving [at the upcoming Out & Equal Workplace Summit], which I meant to write last night, but I let myself not work on it because I had terrible menstrual cramps. I just felt too sick to work. But now, I feel bad, showing up empty-handed."
My friend suggested that I was being too hard on myself.
People always tell me that," I whined.
"You can change," she said.
"Ugh. How come, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I was able to, but not now? I can remember making a few awkward moves when I was that age, and saying aloud once or twice, 'Oh, I'm such a klutz.' Well, the third time or so, I said to myself, 'Don't ever say that aloud again, or you will be a klutz forever.' And I never did again, and I've been pretty graceful my whole life."
"Yeah, but I can't imagine doing it for this character defect."
"It's not a defect --"
"I'm reminded of [one of my young relatives], who handed me a drawing that the relative worked on, saying, 'It's really bad, and I know I can do so much better than this!' It made me so sad to hear my young relative sound just like me."
"Maybe you could model the behavior for [your relative]."
"That's a great idea."
"Have we talked about a concept called 'pattern interrupt?'"
"Well, there are some cities, where the police have an agreement with pizza places, where they can pick up a pizza on the way to a domestic dispute. The police officer shows up to the house, holding a pizza. Whoever answers the door is so surprised to see a police officer, holding a pizza, he or she is distracted from the dispute."
"That's really interesting. I love that idea.
"So maybe you could have a code-word to stop yourself, whenever you're being too hard on yourself, like, 'pizza,' or 'klutz.'"
I smiled hard.
Why does a colleague/mentor/friend need to have a brush with her mortality for me to pause and recall my own and her humanity -- KLUTZ!
Rather: Wasn't it great that the two of us gave ourselves the gift of a friendship reunion today, and that we had an I-Thou, Buber-esque time?
"Love," I think, needs to be my code-word.