As I am sure many of you know, I am hardly ever at a loss for words, and yet I have found myself strangely without a voice this month as I have been pondering what to share in my In Our Hale article. The source of my lack of inspiration, if you will, is the loss of our longtime canine family member Chloe, which leaves Cris and I “childless” for only the second time in the past 30 years. That is a very different experience for us, particularly in light of a long and extremely important process that we went through as a family prior to Chloe’s passing.
I am wont in situations like this to become very reflective, particularly interested in lessons I might take from important life experiences. I have, for the longest period of time, tried to find and understand the meaning in the things that I encounter in my life preferring to not to have to touch the stove twice to learn something that I would prefer to learn the first time around and making every effort not to allow time to erode the sharp awareness I have of either feelings or of specific things that I’ve learned or would like to remember. That is especially true since I am at that stage in my career and also since we are at that point as we approach the end of the fiscal year where I become very reflective. I typically, at about this time of year, begin to think about the year in retrospect playing back the major events and reflecting on the process. Since Sunday, June 8, was the one year anniversary of the passing of our beloved controller, Maria Gozzip, coupled with the loss of Chloe I have found myself in a particularly somber and reflective mood.
I happened, in the course of my reflections, to be reminded of a phrase that we have used at various points at Hale Kipa that talks about assisting our youth and families in accepting responsibility for fulfilling their dreams. That caused me to stop, since I’ve now spent 44 years as the CEO of a nonprofit human service agency without ever asking myself what my dreams are. If I were to ponder what would be on my “bucket list” or what are the opportunities I might like to pursue in the next phase in my life, I realize that I have never really stopped long to think about that. I’ve always been much too busy being fully engaged in the moment, something I preach often, but occasionally even forget myself. While I remember that moments are precious and that they never come this way again, I too can get caught up in thinking about things that are in the future and failing to remember that life happens while people plan. That is probably one of the biggest takeaways from the experience that I’ve recently had. In my In Our Hale piece a month ago, I talked about accepting and recognizing our inability to control the world we live in and I used the quote “Storms are inevitable, preparation is critical.” But Chloe’s passing reminded me that no amount of preparation can anticipate all of the unforeseen circumstances, whatever those might be and wherever and however they might come up. And so I have been forced to stop and ask, “At this point in my life what is it that makes me happy? What are the things that matter most to me? What am I doing with my precious moments that don’t meet those criteria?”
When I was much younger I was a group facilitator and trainer. One of the trainings I did involved activities that are called values clarification. The essence of that process asks you to stop and periodically review and renew commitments to those things that you say you value or believe. I thus learned the difference between an espoused value and a value in action. Espoused is something obviously that I hold up as an example of those things that matter most to me, and of course the question of consequence is, what do you see on a daily basis in terms of my actions and do they line up at all with those values. Clearly this is very similar to the process that I am currently engaged in.
Another activity that was very relevant for me was to be really clear about what relationships matter most to me. When I was in my early twenties I determined that I would never again use words like intimate or friend without having attached to it a legitimate and authentic personal definition of what that term means to me. Through that process I realized that while I always cared deeply about my family, I wasn’t entirely sure I could or should necessarily use the term friend to describe them. That is, that love didn’t necessarily equate with friendship. Like values, relationships require regular nurturing and attention since they do not sustain themselves without time, energy, effort and commitment.
And so I come out of an experience having gone through what for me has been a profound sense of loss, probably attached to all kinds of things well beyond and in addition to what others might see as simply the passing of a canine family member. And that has caused me to look carefully at whether I am doing justice to my values and in those relationships that matter most to me. And the time has come for me to dream.
Existential questions resonate for me and I have become even more acutely aware of how important it is to remind you that you need to focus on those things that truly matter and that every day you need to be doing something that in some way makes you happy or matters to you.
I leave you with this thought. I am also more conscious today of an aspiration that I hold for all of the youth and families we serve. A tragedy for me is the extent to which so many of those we serve spend every day simply trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. I despair at our society’s ability to acknowledge or recognize the needs of a population that are often invisible and yet they deserve to be able to be assisted in accepting responsibility for fulfilling their dreams. But in order to do that they first have to know what those dreams are and even before that, they have to dream. I hope you are dreamers and I hope that you assist our youth and their families in being dreamers. I hope in the end we have, if nothing else, lit the spark of a dream that will eventually burn bright for an individual and provide them the happiness they deserve.