The year was 1979. My first husband and I had moved from Tallahassee to Atlanta. He had been the "advance man" for a candidate in a close but losing gubernatorial race. The town flipped. It was time to move on. I got a job as personal assistant to the chairman of the board of a large hotel chain corporation.
My boss had political as well as entrepreneurial ambitions. He needed someone like me: a voracious reader, decent writer, and good researcher. Someone with no ties to the rest of the sharks in their executive suites. Someone who wouldn't tell his secrets, especially the one that made him most vulnerable: dyslexia. He could read, but slowly, awkwardly. Achieving an engineering degree from a decent school must have been tough. I read, digested, and regurgitated verbal summaries. His focus was complete; his memory a camera.
Most of my assignments involved corporate and political research. But sometimes, I was called upon for services of a more personal nature. No. Not that. Never a hint of that. My boss had a daughter, barely a toddler, who had been diagnosed with a type of cancer in her eye. The whole family traveled to Sloan-Kettering in New York City regularly. The outcome was far from certain. Several times, I drove from the corporate headquarters over to Emory University to pick up a man who ran the hospice there, and brought him back to visit with my boss.
It was great for me. I had a chance to talk with this man about many things, including his perception of the value in having a chance to "say goodbye" to someone you love. I shared my own experience of losing my Dad so suddenly to a heart attack when he was only 51. He told me that it can take as long as 25 years to resolve and finally "say goodbye." I told him how I didn't remember crying then, but years later, in 1973 when I walked by the television set in our small apartment which was set to the funeral of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, strains of old gospel hymns grabbed me by the throat, and all those sobs I had stuffed way down when I was 12 came pouring out in a catharsis of goodbye to my Daddy.
The hospice director was an interesting guy. He didn't drive a car, spoke quietly, and his standard dress was a casual short-sleeve shirt, khaki pants and hush puppies. One time, when I brought him into my boss's office and led them both over to a sitting area with two facing sofas with a glass coffee table between, I couldn't escape quickly enough before my boss completely lost his composure. He was nearly incoherent through his tears. His voice shook. He feared for his little girl's life and worried about whether he could survive her death. There was rage, anguish, near panic. I had gotten trapped between the sofa, the men and the exit in the speed of his disintegration, and had no choice but to remain in the room, as invisibly as possible, until I could slip out.
From that day forward, my boss acted as though he could barely look at me or speak to me. I continued to do my job, but a few months later, moved back to Florida. Before leaving, I called the hospice director and told him about my boss's strange behavior. He assured me it was quite natural. He said, "You caught him in a vulnerable moment, and he'll never forgive you for it."
I since learned that his daughter recovered, he sold the company and went on to more expansive dreams.
In times of worry and stress, we humans sometimes go crazy for a little while. It's probably a healthy way to cope. We go to extremes of emotion and we come back. Sometimes, as Buck might say, we "holler before we're hit." It's a kind of dress rehearsal for "the worst," even though "the worst" may not come. We can forgive ourselves for that, and much more.
Last night, I read "The Way to Love," a small book of Anthony de Mello's last meditations, and then went to sleep listening to Pärt: Alina – Spiegel im Spiegel. (Thank you, Dick Jones, of Patteran Pages for turning me on to this remarkable music.)
Early, in the foggy mist of a warm dawn, a fragment of a stalwart meditation from the Book of Common Prayer rises, unbidden, to my lips.
"This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. . ."