Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ashes to Ashes: A New Chapter Begins

Now the darkness only stays the nighttime
in the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
it's not always going to be this grey

- All Things Must Pass,

(George Harrison)

In a blink of an eye thirty years seem to have blown by just like that. Yes, just like that. A full chapter written in the book of life was completed just the other day. “Ashes to ashes” is more prophetic than this pilgrim could ever imagine. Now there are blank pages in my journal/log waiting to be filled and navigational charts with no particular course yet plotted. only the current safe harbor and end point identified.

Sitting in the middle of a debate as to the significance of recalling where one was the night the US hockey team defeated the Russian Olympic team at the lake Placid Winter Olympics in February of 1980 fueled an avalanche of emotions. That date and time is burned deep within my heart. I had been burned out at my job at a local college and was separated from my wife. The burn out had foundation in some diseased roots and was killing off any prospect of any type of growth or maturity.

Just three days before my thirty second birthday, Friday February 22,1980, Ginny and I reconciled our separation and we were getting back together. My family had always paid attention to one’s birthday as a “special” day not just for the person who was celebrating the anniversary of his or her birth but also for everyone who was blessed by the gift of the presence of that person in this life. If that wasn’t cause enough to celebrate there was the young college age amateur US Hockey team defeating the powerful twelve year undefeated Russian team made up of mostly professional athletes at the Lake Placid Olympics! Now a nation was celebrating with Ginny and I. “This was truly going to be a memorable birthday” I, recall thinking. It was also the night I received that dreaded phone call with the news that my father had suddenly without warning passed away from a major heart attack. My cheers transformed to tears. It was memorable !!

That day was a week before I was to run my first twenty-six mile marathon. With the encouragement and faith of my family and close friends I endured the emotional and physical draining pain and completed that race that took place two days after a late winter blizzard had coated the roadways. I Dr. Zchivagoed my way across the frozen pathways of the county park with my running companion Bernie at my side for most of the journey. As the pain increased the run became a slow jog and I found myself alone running on empty. Just as my body, and spirit were to hit the proverbial twenty-mile mark wall my brother drove up in his car riding along side me throwing his fist in the air in victorious support! I wasn’t alone, my dad’s spirit and all the prayers of friends and family carried me those last six miles to cross the finish line! It seemed appropriate to have a storm be part of that marathon and week-long experience. I had forgotten though that storms don’t last forever.

It is sad to say that running that 26-mile marathon was not as difficult as attempting to bring back some spark to my career path. You see marathoning required preparation, planning, persistence, hard work and faith, much like career planning. For the next eleven months I tried just about everything to no avail. The despair led me to participate in a training seminar led by the guru of career gurus, Richard Bolles (author of the famous What Color is Your Parachute.). My chute was not opening and I was falling fast!

It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh month since that I day of infamy in Lake Placid and my own emotional upheaval. This pilgrim sailor had been drifting from any sense of faith or religiosity and the drifting had become status quo. I had thought that the events of almost 12 months prior would have catapulted me into action or at least a new calling magically delivering me from the perpetual whirlpool. This educated experienced trained counselor proved his ineptness by not being able to help himself. It was then on an Ash Wednesday not quite one year from that Miracle on Ice that a transformation was unknowingly initiated and would unfold. On my way to lunch that fateful Wednesday I saw Fr. Ken executing his religious duties by dispensing ashes to any passerby who was inclined to be blessed in a conference room. I thought “What the heck. I have nothing to lose.” You can take the boy out of the church but you cannot take the church out of the boy! I was marked and had been for years .

That evening of my reconciliation marking I received the most unusual phone call from this guy Herb who was the President of a local consulting firm. I had been referred to him about a potential job. We spoke for an hour about things like hope and faith of all things. He asked me what I believed in! What a strange interview …what a strange conversation for two strangers …but there was something…something that connected us? He was a pilgrim also but he knew where he was headed. Herb would eventually hire me and became my mentor concerning matters of business and faith .He became a dear friend. Leaving the security of employment at the college by joining Herb and his partner and a their associates my life would change forever. Well, at least for thirty years!

Just about a week or so ago at a mass after receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday at Loyola House of Retreats Fr. Tom offered up a prayer for Fr. Ken. I couldn’t recall how I knew this Fr. Ken. So after mass I met with Fr. Tom and then I recalled Fr. Ken and the ashes almost thirty years ago to the day. I told Fr. Tom this story and we both became a little weepy. The grace of the sacramental “receiving the ashes” started to sink in. I prayed for Fr. Ken.

This pilgrim sailor’s voyage brought me to places and experiences I never dreamed would be possible for me. Most importantly I was blessed with two lovely daughters. The career and successful thriving business introduced me to new companion pilgrims on the long journey home. Eventually the business hit the perfect storm and sank. The desire for personal survival not only increased the art of personal petitioning prayer but it would bring me back to working at a college. I had come full circle.

But we all know that the loop needed to be closed to be complete. Just days before going to that mass on Ash Wednesday at Loyola a couple of weeks ago I was informed that my position at the college where I was working for the past couple of years was eliminated. One third of the positions in our division were wiped from the rolls. As one who used to consult companies how to restructure and reorganize I was now the recipient and outcome of someone’s recommendations. The thirty year chapter had come full circle and to a to a close.

Now there are blank pages in my journal/log waiting to be filled and navigational charts with no particular course yet plotted. only the current safe harbor and end point identified.

Currently personal considerations include retirement, volunteering with a faith-based or national service group, or even some teaching or writing. It isn’t really what we do that matters but how we do it that is important in the big picture. This pilgrim is slowly learning to listen to the voice of the heart, which almost came to a full dead stop a year and a half ago. I am humbly grateful for the journey past, where I am now and for the journey yet to come. My Second Chance Dance has been confirmed and the vessel is cleared to continue the voyage.

“ Say goodbye to your golden yesterdays or your heart will never learn to love the present”

- Anthony DeMello SJ

“At the Day of Judgment we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken, but how holy we have lived.”

Imitation of Christ: Book I, ch. 3, Thomas A’ Kempis


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