by Jay Jamison
The first column I had published in The Source appeared in November 2018. A few weeks earlier I had been informed via an email from another publication that my services were no longer needed. The message asserted that I was not being shown the door because of any failure on my part as a writer.
Reflecting on those days, I remember trying to recall the last time I was let go. I couldn’t come up with any job in my adult life when I was asked to leave. The only other “you’re fired” experience that I recall, was when I was in the third grade as a movie projector operator. One day my teacher told me, in kids’ language of course, that my services as a projectionist were no longer needed. I still remember that feeling of abject dejection. Being a projectionist was part of my little kid identity.
Two weeks ago, Yellow Corp announced it was closing its doors after 99 years in the trucking business. Now 30,000 people are out of work. The old Stalinist formulation comes to mind in a new context: One job loss is a tragedy, 30,000 job losses is a statistic. If we just look at the big numbers, we lose a crucial context of what we are talking about. We do not recognize the faces, nor can we know all the people who are now out of work. The only way to get beyond the empty numbers is to see the story at the level of individual human beings.
Americans tend to make their work part of their identity. In some other cultures, the big question asked is, “Who are you?” Since we have no noble titles, Americans want to know what you do. When someone is laid off, a certain part of their identity is lost.
When the news broke that Jacksonville Memorial Hospital, and other units of the Memorial Health System, were undergoing a restructuring to reduce the workforce, my heart sank. The Transitional Care Unit, which had just won national accolades earlier this year, is slated to close the end of September. I had just been out at the Jacksonville TCU visiting a friend, a day before hearing the bad news. I am not writing this to evaluate whether the decisions about personnel were right or wrong. Instead, I’m focusing on those who have spent years in devoted service to a care-giving institution in our town. I may be mistaken, but I suspect that working in a hospital, in whatever capacity, is somehow different from working for a trucking company or even a newspaper. In their press statement, Memorial Health noted that those who are being let go will receive severance packages, which is a good thing. Still, if my guess that many people take their work as an integral part of their identity is correct, then the loss of jobs amounts to more than just lost income. We’re fortunate to have a local hospital with high professional standards. Sometimes difficult conditions force some very tough decisions on management.
So, for our neighbors and friends whose jobs are gone, remember the old quote attributed to Alexander Graham Bell, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Let’s open some doors. Thanks, and good luck.