The Worst of Times / The Best of Times

“The people who have the best, most loving ideas tend to be executed or assassinated or discouraged.” ~Sarah Vowell

One year ago today, Colleen and I experienced the worst 24 hours of our lives.

It began in a visceral encounter with the fallout from the toxic culture at my workplace and culminated at 3:11am the next morning when I got the call that my father had died.

We learned that our best intentions could be weaponized and used against us. We were reminded that organizations exist to preserve themselves; that even the most dedicated team members are quickly sacrificed when fear overrides common sense.

We were overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of our circle of concern. The people who matter most surrounded us with love and support as we coped with another career transition and the loss of our family’s beloved patriarch.

We were also were reminded that character is defined by how you treat those who can do nothing for you. Many prioritize a relationship only to the extent that your position and perceived power can be used for their benefit. There were some whom we thought we counted as friends who drifted away once our usefulness was exhausted. This is the normal progression as life’s pages turn. But it has heightened our appreciation of the value of every individual who crosses our path.

And we learned that a lifetime of selfless service to causes and people that have meaning to us can only be destroyed by a single event if we allow it to change who we are.

When it became clear that we were no longer shackled by our commitments in Michigan, new vistas of opportunity opened to us.

We arrived on the cusp of the wonder years in our grandchildren’s lives and have been blessed to witness many magical moments. We burst with parental pride in seeing, first hand, the extraordinary men and women our kids have grown up to be.

And, at long last, we can pursue our next reinventions with the sole objective of doing what is in sync with our life’s purpose and fills us with positive energy and joy.

The scars of our final months in Michigan remain deep and painful. But they have been softened by many acts of attentive kindness, affirmations of friendship, and the excitement that new opportunities present.

While I felt shame and embarrassment to have to tell my father that the workplace where I had given my all so quickly devalued my contributions during the last days of his life, I will always remember the final gift of wisdom he gave me.

“We are not defined by our setbacks,” he said. “We are defined by how we respond to them.”

I already knew that one by heart. But hearing it from my role model for courage and character renewed my inner strength.

As we look back over the last 12 months, we choose to believe that this past year was the fire that forged steel cables of commitment to being the best human beings we can be. We have known the dark valley of fear and adversity. It has given us  clarity of vision to appreciate the view from the mountain top, and the energy to keep climbing through the storm clouds until we get there.