Hamburgers with Howard

Howard came home from the grocery store with a pile of fixings. He was in the mood for a really good hamburger. I was drawn into the kitchen to keep him company while he cooked. The shipping could wait for an hour and the kids were all at school. This was a chance for Howard and I to visit. Also, the hamburgers needed two sets of hands. I cleared the counter while Howard prepped the grill and cooking surfaces. As I worked and talked with Howard I was reminded of another occasion when we cooked hamburgers together. It was the week he quit Novell.

Howard had spent the preceding month on a whirlwind set of business trips. He’d come home exhausted and with the knowledge that it was time for him to be done working in that corporate environment. I knew it was past time. I’d watched him stretch himself thinner and thinner trying to keep his product going by sheer force of will. The company kept asking him to accomplish more while simultaneously removing resources. It was killing him and I could see it. I was so glad when he prayed and realized it was time for him to leave. I’d been praying for years that the time would come.

Howard announced his intention to leave and it was astonishing how quickly it came to pass. Within two days everything was tied up and he was done. He had a hard time saying goodbye to his work friends. He had an even harder time packing up his office. Eleven years of commitment and emotional effort had gone into Novell. Howard was besieged by doubts and fears. I was not. I kept calmly assuring him that everything would be okay; that the decision was the right one. He came home on that last day and it was as if a weight had lifted from his shoulders. He was happy, but wrung out.

Then next day was when I felt fear. I was suddenly very aware of the bills I would have to pay and the complete lack of income to pay them. There is no severance for people who leave of their own volition. We had savings. It would last us about three months. I remember laying on the couch and feeling the house all around me as if it was a physical weight that I somehow had to carry. I was so scared. It was scary to sit down with the kids and explain to them how our income had changed and what that meant for them. I cried with them that we could no longer afford chicken nuggets. That day it was Howard’s turn to reassure me that everything would be okay.

On the third day Howard made hamburgers. We sat down at the table together. We sat there together at lunch and for the first time I felt joy in the decision to quit. It was a peaceful moment, a promise that the new life we were embarking upon would be better that the one we had just let go.

I thought of that five-years-ago lunch as I ate today’s hamburger. Howard and I sat together at the table and laughed over small things, taking time to enjoy a moment of peace before we both head back to work. The time since that long ago lunch has not been stress-free. There have been tears and terrors aplenty. But I was right. This life has been better. We have been happier, even during the times when we have to scramble to keep all the ends together.

And the burgers are really good.