Recently, I was at a gathering with some people I haven't seen in over 18 years. One of the women there, a lovely, elderly, soft-spoken soul was there, sitting on a sofa. I purposely avoided making eye contact with her and busied myself at the buffet.
As the afternoon passed it was inevitable she would notice me and finally she did. She started by telling me how good it was to see me after all this time. She spoke of the time I took a leave of absence to take care of my mother when she was dying. This woman was all lightness and joy, telling me about her retirement and her grandchildren.
I hesitated to bring up the thing that was bothering me so much, but I mustered up some guts and did. I had known, after a merger the company we had worked for was going through, that this kind lady's job was getting axed. I was in a position of knowing a lot of top-level information and also being obligated to secrecy. When the merger was first announced, my co-worker was over joyed and had many plans on how to integrate her department with the other company's sister department and the like. My boss, the department vice-president, had me working on org charts, salary reports, and other data driven mapping for the future, with little regard for the human casualties.
Day after day, my doomed friend would stop and ask me about my day, invite me out with her group for happy hour, or simply chat over a cup of tea. I felt like the underside of a shoe that had been afflicted with the lowest levels of whale shit.
At the party, I said to her, "I am sorry I never said anything about your job being in jeopardy after the merger. This is no excuse but I was young and hadn't developed the sense of when to employ discretion and when to listen to loyalty."
She looked at me and took my hand and said, "No, no, no. You did me a favor. I took some time off, started a company, had grandchildren, closed my company, traveled. Every experience in life is an opportunity."
I felt like a six ton weight of guilt I held on to for 18 years being lifted. I was free.