One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Fifteen

“At times when we struggle most to see the light, we need the help of complete darkness.”
 – Matthew Gorman

In Part Fourteen, I was beginning to draw conclusions about the world in which I now lived. What I had not realized then is that as I ascended in roles and responsibilities, I was becoming more entrenched in the operating principles of every man and woman for themselves. Long gone were the days when one could safely assume colleagues had your back. Gone were the days of trust as I had come to know it. In this new world, my value as a human being it seemed to me, became more tied to the successes I had hitherto enjoyed. In hindsight, this is certainly not surprising. I developed the belief that worth equals achievement. Without the latter, the former could not exist.

One year after completing my MBA, I resigned (not without being requested to do so) from my employer of eleven years without another job waiting for me. Despite the respectful relationship that existed between my boss and me, neither of us could deny my withering zest. I had been bombarded with stories about people who left consulting employment to start their own independent consulting businesses and find themselves on stronger financial footing. The year I resigned was the same year that the recession of 2008 and 2009 was beginning to bloom. I don’t believe I could have chosen a worse time to take such a risk.

I was feeling pains of withdrawal from the intellectual stimulation I immensely enjoyed from the academic environment. I could feel my intellectual muscles begin to atrophy and I was growing melancholic. I was now pretty certain that fulfillment in life for me was not down this path. I began having conversations with other academics about returning to school for a Ph.D. I had not yet understood was that my career did not have to be where I found fulfillment. My career did not have to be my identity. Since pursuing a Ph.D. would unavoidably and significantly impact my career and earnings, the threat to my identity was too much to bear.

In the fall of October 2011, an opportunity presented itself to me that would invite to me re-examine so many ill-developed conceptions of who the person I had begun to believe I was meant to be. My friend Patrick, a film producer and owner of ProCine Sound and Picture, was retained to create a faith-based documentary on the 10th anniversary of the Vatican approving Kibeho, Rwanda as an approved Marian Apparition site[1]. (Rwanda is predominantly Roman Catholic.) Such a production requires several pieces of equipment, most of which were rather expensive.

Yours truly capturing sound at service in Kibeho Rwanda.

He needed someone to aid with sound capture and management while he focused on image and motion capture. The fundamentals were easy enough to grasp. A brief crash course on the equipment and I was ready to go. I won’t provide a play by play of all that unfolded during our trip. However, I will share a few experiences that were rather jarring to the paradigms onto which I had recently been clinging. At the end of this blog, I provide a link to a six-minute video which is the short version of the final product.

The first evening of actual filming was for a vigil service. Our driver dropped us off at the entrance to the church grounds. Patrick and I retrieved our equipment from the vehicle, and we were immediately surrounded by a couple dozen children and teenagers. Patrick and I are both over six feet tall and white. While the group with which we traveled included two caucasian women who were also from the U.S., they each stood at about five and a half feet tall or so. Patrick and I literally stood out like sore thumbs. Factoring in our equipment, we were like a carnival attraction to the people with whom we had come to congregate.

The young people who were fascinated by our presence and armloads of equipment flanked us on all sides. They wanted to learn what on earth we were all about. A few offered to help us carry our equipment wherever we needed to go. Since we wanted to capture footage from several places and angles, we had to move around a lot. This meant our new roadies and fan club would be taking on a bit of work. It should be noted that Patrick and I did not know a single syllable of their language and likewise for them with English.

Although the threat of rain was small, clouds covered the sky. It was near dusk, so the dark of night was quickly edging closer. Once the evening turned into night, the people’s celebration would move to the indoors of the church. As we began to gather our equipment for the trek inside, which took several minutes, the supply of electricity to the parking lot light poles (which were not much more than a few weather-ready light bulbs hanging from poles) would be disrupted repeatedly leaving us in the dark. I mean pitch black dark. If you held your hand in front of your face you would not see it. Whenever this happened, I felt the grasp of the hands of those helping us. In so doing, they communicated to us that they were still with us and we need not be concerned. This struck me at once as both reassuring and transformative. I instantly became keenly aware that their primary interest was in taking care of us and not in any physical possession of ours.

Once we were through with filming on our first night, we began packing things up and we were discussing how to handle tipping the kids who helped us. I figured in my head how many Rwandan francs would be the equivalent of a few US dollars for each kid. When we gave them the money they were as excited as they were dumfounded. “Why on earth are they giving us money?” They seemed to be wondering. The others nearby who were less involved in carrying the equipment but still followed us everywhere we went, looked at those who did receive money equally perplexed. “Why did they give that to you?” It dawned on me that their willingness and downright eagerness to assist us was not motivated by any want of material compensation but merely to explore their sense of wonder. I was witnessing in my life for the first time in a long time, true beauty in humanity.

The following day was the main church service. The link to the video at the end of this blog goes a little bit more into this but I want to share the experience of observing a section of the service where gifts are carried to the altar to be sacrificed for the good of others. Commonly, this is merely ritualistic and the gifts include nothing more than what the celebrant will be using for the eucharistic portion of the service and it takes up no more than a couple minutes. That was not the case here. For what possibly lasted nearly a half-hour, if not longer, there would be a sea of people carrying to the alter items they bought from home to offer to those less fortunate than themselves. Think about this for a minute, by first-world standards, these were people who are unimaginably impoverished, and they still acted on their sense of duty to assist those whom they realized less fortunate than they themselves were. They had nearly nothing, and still felt they were fortunate enough to give away something – so they did! Contrast that with first world countries where there is an overabundance of things we need for sustenance and we still feel we never have enough.

Once the service was over, we had several days planned to travel around to learn more about the 1994 genocide that factored into the stories behind the apparitions. In the spring of 1994, between 800,000 and one million Tutsis were slaughtered, commonly by machete, by the Hutu’s. The bloodshed was so widespread and intense many rivers and waterways were tinted red during this time period. For a historical account of these events and the events that led up to the genocide, I welcome you to visit this link to a BBC article published on April 4, 2019.

The village youth enjoyed following us around.

We visited other churches as part of the documentary. One church we visited was connected to a bakery that made communion wafers. They also made bread and rolls. Outside the perimeter of the fenced-in church grounds were more neighborhood kids intrigued by what they saw from a distance as we went about our business. While touring the bakery operations, we purchased several dozen rolls for about one US dollar per dozen. We walked out beyond the fenced area of the church grounds to offer rolls to the children lingering about. Our group comprised about four or five people and dozens of children swarmed us once they realized we were offering them bread. With each one of our hands holding out the bread, other hands from all directions would grab and pull to get a piece despite our attempts to assure them we had more than enough to go around.

Things we take for granted, would often be sources of fascination and wonder for the children.

Occasionally, a roll or a piece of a roll would fall to the ground landing in the mud. The contest for that piece would follow it down and the victor would rise smiling as they ate their mud-soaked piece of bread. If that is not what real hunger looks like, I have no idea what does, and I have no desire to observe it. As I stood more than a foot above these children, I realized how much I looked up to them as well as those who helped us earlier.

The rest of the week included visits to mass graves (some rather horrific) and other memorials honoring the souls slaughtered in the Spring of 1994. Our journeys also took us to locations where we would meet people who had lost loved ones in the genocide as well as those who had served time in prison for their part in the genocide. One such encounter our host, Immaculee Ilibagiza[1] who lost nearly her entire family herself, negotiated, in front of our eyes and ears, a reconciliation attempt between a grieving young woman and a man believed to have been responsible for the death of at least one of her loved ones. In place of scathing hatred, the voice of the grieving was full of deep sorrow and pain. The pathway to forgiveness and peace was being laid before the feet of these two individuals and I had a front and center seat less than ten feet away. I could not understand a word being said, but I could feel every ounce of emotion being exchanged. I was in a country and among people, that, seventeen and a half years later, were still in the process of healing.

Our group left to right: Yvan (our driver); Immaculee (author, speaker and our host); Renee; Patrick; Chantal (genocide survivor); Margaret; yours truly

As the week came to a close, I found myself pondering many responses, some emotional and others intellectual. One thought that oddly stood out was the notion of chance. As a business-minded person who, at home, was trying to embark on an entrepreneurial pathway, I held the belief that financial success primarily comes from blood, sweat, and tears. Indeed, grit and perseverance are essential components of success, and those things rely solely on us. The most significant factor is one that no one individual can ever control or even influence. The environment into which we are born, in my case in the United States with a favorable cluster of demographic characteristics, is a random draw, pure and simple. What we do in our environment later on is up to us. The other revelation I had was that I, as a citizen of a nation whose overarching values breed abundance in material worth and depravity of gratitude, was now congregating among a people who possess little if anything of any material worth, but whose hearts overflow with gratitude. I am reminded of the saying I once read but to whom it is attributed, I cannot recall. “I feel quite sorry for many wealthy people. The only thing they have in life is money.”

Yours truly at the entrance to Hôtel des Mille Collines (cinematically known as Hotel Rwanda).

I conclude Part Fifteen with a brief tale of our lodging. We did not stay in one region throughout the week. Rather, we traveled to and lodged in several areas. The accommodations were quite basic. A bed, a sink, and a toilet. On our final night, we were back in the capital city of Kigali where this amazing experience all began a week earlier. We stayed at a hotel that is heavily frequented by foreigners; Hôtel des Mille Collines. The story of the hotel and its manager at that time, Paul Rusesabagina, was later used as the basis of the 2004 film ‘Hotel Rwanda’.

I look forward to seeing you in Part Sixteen. In the meantime, I invite you to watch this six-minute video to learn more about the experience of my week in Rwanda. https://vimeo.com/34709750

[1] Immaculee Ilibagiza is a survivor of the genocide and her astonishing story of faith, survival, and forgiveness is told in her seminal book, “Left to Tell” ©2006 Immaculee Ilibagiza

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marian_apparition

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One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Fourteen

“I was once a child with dreams and no deadlines and now I was an adult with deadlines and no dreams.”

― Matthew E. Gorman

 I closed Part Thirteen, introducing the term, Post Traumatic Success Disorder, another form of PTSD[1] which can also be referred to as Success Panic. As if two interchangeable terms are not enough, we will see that Success Guilt also suffices. A few things rose to the level of consciousness for me that helps illustrate the underpinnings of what I will reveal.

There are countless stories of people born and raised in very impoverished environments who become extraordinarily successful – financially speaking. There are also countless others who are born and raised in similar environments yet do not realize great financial success. Some even remain impoverished. The secret sauce is not determined by early-life economic stability but rather, I posit, by the way we, as individuals, internalize and process our early environments and the reactions of those to whom we look to shepherd us in early life.

My dad was the youngest of five children. Three of his siblings were boys, the oldest was ten when my dad was born. My grandfather owned and operated Gorman Dairies, a home milk delivery business. It was the family business that, in its heyday, had every potential of growing into something substantial. My dad’s father passed away in 1961 at the age of 67. His passing left a void in the executive functions of the business. As the 1960s progressed, several shifts in society were afoot. Households were acquiring second automobiles allowing homemakers to go to the market for dairy and other staples while the breadwinners could still have one automobile for commuting to and from work; wives were joining the workforce in greater numbers and larger in-home refrigerators were becoming more common lessening the need for frequent home delivery. Without my grandfather, there was no one to lead the business through these shifts in consumer behavior.

Gorman Dairies continued to operate in traditional fashion with home delivery while a couple of their competitors were reading the writing on the wall and opened a few storefronts, taking away significant market share in the process. Eventually, the value of Gorman Dairies would precipitously decline, and the family would ultimately be forced to sell the business for a song to a competitor in 1969. As you can imagine, this was crushing to my dad, his mom, and his siblings. I recognize that it is indeed mere speculation to suggest the future would hold anything much different if my dad’s father had remained alive during this transition in consumer behavior. That does not alter the outcome that their lives were suddenly turned upside down leaving each of them wondering what they would do for a living. My dad and his siblings at one time assumed, and rationally so, that Gorman Dairies was their ticket to a moderately successful and perhaps quite comfortable livelihood.

As the youngest child (and in part, possibly, because of it) my dad grew up often feeling like his contributions and efforts were marginalized by his older siblings. This impacted not only his self-esteem but also his ability to teach self-esteem. In life, I was learning, options were limited. ‘You do what you have to in this world.’ I would hear all too often.  ‘Going after what you wanted’ might serve as powerful lyrics in a folk song[2], but it was not part of our family’s anthem. I went out in the world without the expectation of, or emotional tools to handle, success. My parents, like nearly all parents, certainly had ever hope for success in life for me and my brother and they did everything in their power to allow for that. I am pointing to the emotional preparedness for success that is a challenge for nearly everybody regardless of race, creed, or socioeconomic stratum.

Ever since I was capable of observing my surroundings (about the time Gorman’s Dairies was sold) I observed the difficulties my dad had trying to make his way in life with a wife and eventually two sons to support. To his very worthy credit, he did everything anyone could have ever expected from him in finding work to keep us all fed and sheltered. Be that as it may, little in my childhood prepared me for much more than low-skill work and the difficulty of my late teens seemingly sealed my fate. At the time, I knew no other response than nonchalant acceptance. Apart from purposes of distinction in prose or conversation, I do not, in any way, bifurcate the value in any honest work by the color of the collar. Integrity and its opposite are both colorblind when it comes to any classification of work. My point is that I was not raised with expectations of success much beyond the environment in which I was raised. On top of that, being so attuned to my dad, I absorbed and internalized his diminished self-esteem.

Fast forward thirty-five years and my life had become rather luxurious by comparison. The contrast was stark. Despite all I had I accomplished, I was not in any way, shape or form prepared to handle any of it. This is the Post Traumatic Success Disorder that led to Success Guilt.

Whether from a natural disaster, a violent act by an unstable person that results in one or more fatalities, or less infrequent, an auto accident fatality with at least one survivor, many survivors in all situations suffer what is referred to as Survivors’ Guilt. “Why did I survive when others did not?” This can be quite acute when the deceased and survivor share a bond through either family or friendship.

In a similar way, I was having challenges accepting my success. I did not believe I deserved it. I somehow felt unworthy and often ashamed. No one else could have ever possibly understood the real reason I chased success so no one else could possibly have had the same lens as me in viewing my success. I was alone in my success. I was losing a connection to a part of me that I was leaving behind. In trying to rid myself of any lingering memory of me in my late teens I threw the baby out with the bathwater. I had seemingly displaced much of what made me who I was since I was a child. I was once a child with dreams and no deadlines and now I was an adult with deadlines and no dreams. I surpassed anybody’s expectations of me – especially my own – and now I did not believe I belonged where I was. At least not yet. Everything happened so fast. I had the qualifications to be where I was. I simply was not prepared because I had not actively planned for it. I just checked the boxes, so to speak.

This nagging feeling in my gut that I wasn’t really supposed to here was not sudden. It had been incubating for several years as I retrace my steps in time. This is not the life for which I was raised. I had been making a very impressive living by any reasonable measure. Much like what gives survivor guilt to survivors, I felt guilty for succeeding. In the early days of my career, I was proud of who I had become and now I felt guilty about being proud of who I had become because I was sensing a gradual loss of my authenticity. Why was this? I feared I was shunning my roots, my origins. I feared I was saying that the life my parents had was not good enough for me. As time went on, I began to feel entitled to all the accomplishments I had along with the accompanying perks, as well as all those to come.

My academic and career success had become my sole identity. This put my ego on high alert, and I would easily become irritated by anything that threatened this identity. I was also slowly becoming bitter. Bitter because I had plateaued and was no longer advancing as I had been earlier on. It was if I had taken my success for granted and assumed things would progress as they had been. (Remember, I was not the man behind the curtain pulling the levers of my career.)

Eventually, I would look down from the mountain I had climbed, and for the first time, I was wondering if perhaps all my time, energy and other resources were invested in climbing the wrong mountain. If not the wrong mountain, certainly I had climbed it for the wrong reasons. I was often told that I had the experience and professional presence to reach more senior levels, but I lacked the confidence in myself to succeed. More importantly, I had little, if any desire to accelerate the diminishment of my authenticity. I wanted my humility back. I wanted my joys, desires, and dreams back. I wanted me back. As I write that last sentence, my heart skips a beat. I did not know then what I wanted, but I know it now. And it’s a sobering acknowledgment. I wanted to be free of slavery to the status into which I was quickly falling. For this, I would need yet another divine or cosmic sign like those that opened up doors for me in twenty years earlier.

In the early fall of 2011, I was not fully employed and the broken pieces of my self-esteem where disintegrating further. I received and call from a friend who owns and operates a film production company. He had been recently asked to travel to Rwanda to create a documentary focused on the 30th anniversary of Marian Apparitions that took place there in 1981. He was a one-man outfit and needed assistance with all the equipment he would be using for this project. He asked me if I would be able and willing to quickly learn the fundamentals of sound engineering to assist him. I did not hesitate for a fraction of a second. I was in. I was going to Rwanda!

In Part Fifteen, I will share with you how in one of the poorest villages in one of the poorest countries on earth, I would find the key to finding that which I had been searching for nearly twenty years. My journey was, and remains, far from nearing completion. But Rwanda would be powerfully illuminating on a path that had been growing dark.

I look forward to seeing you in Part Fifteen.

[1] My use of the acronym PTSD is not intended to compare or contrast the trauma I illustrate here with the trauma of warfare or being a victim of a violent and heinous crime. The trauma from near-death experiences or being intimately violated certainly deserves our compassion and support. My use of the word trauma here is not indicating life-threatening experiences but rather threats to identity which can trigger similar emotional responses.

[2] Wasted on the Way – by Crosby Stills and Nash

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One’s Origins: A Journey From Adoption to Identity – Part Thirteen

Welcome back to One’s Origins! What a couple of months it’s been. Technical upgrades coupled with a lot of reflection. Let’s jump back in.

In Part Twelve, I marveled at the wild ride I was living. I do not apologize for any of it. In fact, I am rather grateful for it. It truly was an amazing experience. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of consulting in the big leagues. I was traveling extensively with allowances for any expenses deemed reasonable for making life on the road comfortable. I was learning a lot and working with very smart people from all over the world which exposed me to fascinating perspectives. The hours demanded consumed my personal life and I did not mind. It validated for me that I was important to least to someone and even if ephemerally. I was being paid a salary that was many times greater than I ever imagined I would earn. The company holiday parties were black-tie held at upscale venues. I even bought my own tuxedo and began to scout out other events to put it to good use. I felt like I was beginning to fit in the world. I was feeling like the fish in Albert Einstein’s endearing quote about genius that had finally learned how to climb a tree[1].

As Part Twelve came to a close, I mentioned that I was losing a sense of authenticity and humility. It is this experience that I wish to share with you in Part Thirteen. In Part Fourteen I will talk about my experience with a different form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Success Disorder) also referred to as Success Panic.[2]

Apart from the grind of balancing school and work in my twenties the only effort I had to put in to keep moving forward was simply to show up and do my job. That was it. Fast forward ten years and now I had to do much more than show up, but I had no idea what. The fraternal (and sometimes paternal) environment during the growth phase of my career had diminished significantly. There were certainly project teams where almost everyone bonded and socialized outside the office. But now I was on my own to make my own success. This meant working relationships strategically if I was to continue enjoying that with which I was becoming accustomed. Relationships in the workplace, I was learning, were about maneuvers and manipulations to get desired outcomes. Bluntly, relationships were mere means to other ends. We should expect to be both predator and prey in this jungle. In this environment distinguishing between friend and foe was a survival necessity[3]. Once I began to recognize this, I struggled intellectually and emotionally. I grew up trusting people. I certainly met and associated with very seedy people in my late teens who were as lost as I was, but I assumed getting away from them meant that I could once again assume the best in everyone. Certainly, nothing in my twenties instructed me otherwise. I never had any coaching or mentoring on the fine art of networking and building coalitions. I did not observe, and therefore never learned, politics in small groups. Knowing now what I did not know then, I am certain it was happening all around me. But I was naïve, and no effort was made to unhinge me from my naïveté. It simply was not in the operating system of the environment I observed growing up.

I recall a conversation I once had with a colleague who told me that a partner in the firm once confided in her that they ‘could not figure out my angle’. What angle? Better yet, what is an angle? It sounds like something I am supposed to have. I just wanted to keep learning new and exciting things and give an honest day’s work commensurate (or more so) with the salary I was being paid. That’s how I was raised. Having an angle is not something I ever contemplated. Referring back to Albert Einstein’s quote, was I indeed only a fish and should not be trying to climb a tree?

On more than one occasion something would happen that further diminished my interest in politicking. That something is called the WIIFM. (Pronounced wifemWhat’s in it for me?) This is how WIIFM works. You have something you wish to accomplish, and it requires the assistance of someone with whom there is little or no pre-established working relationship. (It might even happen in established relationships too.) Before assistance is offered, it was common to be asked, “What’s in it for me?” Basically, people will help you if, and often only if, they will get something out of it. I would find this deflating and downright appalling. Call me old-fashioned, but if someone asks you for help and you are able to provide it without undue burden, then you offer the help. It’s that simple. This establishes something between two people and the future will hold an opportunity for reciprocity. It does not need to be artificially created on the spot. If not reciprocity between the same two people, then it gets paid forward. It never needs to be more complicated than that – WIIFM operates on the belief that people have little value for each other beyond their ability to provide utility when needed. For me, the WIIFM mindset sucked the joy out of work.

I am humored by the irony that I see in all this. My early success is largely attributed to others inviting me to become part of what they were trying to accomplish. So yes, there is, of course, the lens through which this can be viewed as me being used by others to help them achieve their objectives. If I declined, someone else would have been offered the same opportunity in my place. I am grateful that people took a liking to me. It meant they felt I was capable and was trustworthy. Nonetheless, my success was not their primary motivation. When I tell you I was naïve, I am not mincing my words.

My own success was now becoming solely dependent on my own actions and I could no longer rely on serendipity and others alone as I had done for so long. Others who were able to grasp how this game is played began to advance in responsibility and salary while I began to languish. My reliability was second to none in getting done what was expected of me and that helped me maintain my value. In Wall Street parlance I might not have had a ‘buy’ rating, but I was able to maintain a ‘hold’ rating.

I tried new things within the company but eventually, my growing feelings of insignificance began to permeate my whole being. I was having withdrawal from all that had elevated me to where I was. I ached for the recognition of my efforts by others. If I was to get my career mojo back, I would have to play a little leapfrog. I had become impressed with those who held post-graduate degrees, so I began to explore options. I sat for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) thinking business law would make me a hotshot and also the General Management Admission Test (GMAT) for an MBA and did respectably on both tests. I would land on an MBA.

Back then, I was not prepared to scale back my lifestyle to accommodate full-time day classes and I needed to be able to maintain flexibility for business travel which ruled out evening classes.[4] My best option was an Executive MBA. These are weekend programs that are very demanding and designed for up and coming business professionals with leadership potential. It was a powerful learning experience. I learned as much from and in some cases more from, my fellow students than I did from the professors. Most importantly I learned a lot about myself and my capabilities. However, these executive programs carry a hefty price tag. They market to companies that sponsor their employees to attend. I was not so lucky. I graduated nearly thirteen years ago and paying off the loans is still a dream.

Armed with an MBA I was now beginning to feel rather proud of myself. Perhaps a little too proud. In the years that followed, I assumed a slight air of superiority. Not an obnoxious one. I still sought to be liked and would never do anything to lose favor with anyone. However, I did believe for a while that my recently acquired knowledge from academia had prepared me to serve others by sharing with them my wisdom whether they wanted it or not. This might seem like self-righteousness. In most cases, that is exactly what it is. In my case, it was also a passive display of a low sense of self-worth. In my mind, if I could develop the skills to quickly assess things taking all that I had learned in my undergraduate and postgraduate schooling and someone else couldn’t, it would frustrate me. Basically, I was saying, if stupid me can figure this out, anyone should. If not, they’d have to be really stupid. That wasn’t being self-righteous. It was a low sense of self-worth and appreciation for the opportunities I have had.

Eventually, I accomplished something that, in a very public way, was recognition of my efforts in something very positive. Unfortunately, I squandered an amazing opportunity to show gratitude and humility and instead, I shamefully massaged the daylights out of my ego.

My employer was the title sponsor of an annual bike-a-thon for a large non-profit organization focused on cancer research. I had served as our company team captain as well as on the volunteer board planning the bike-a-thon for a few years. After a few years, I was nominated for and was elected to receive, their highest award for individual volunteer effort. I was expected to give a brief acceptance speech. Today, I cannot think back on the words I said without regret and embarrassment. The entire organization lived and breathed to fight the war on cancer. Everyone attending the awards banquet was involved in supporting this fight. Most, if not all, had their own painful story where cancer was the villain. As a volunteer, I had attended this annual banquet for the previous few years, and every time someone got behind the podium, you heard heartbreaking stories of lives lost and torn apart because of cancer. I was being recognized for my contributions, so I wrote a speech about me.

Leukemia is a broad term for cancers of the blood cells and we learned in Part Seven how leukemia had decimated my will. Why the hell did I not share that story? Or that both my grandfather and aunt both died from complications directly related to cancer? I’ll tell you why. My damn ego! That, along with my propensity to censure my emotions. I had a very moving story to share. Instead, I opened with the story of me buying my first 10-speed bicycle and how that sowed the seed for what would become a near-obsession with cycling as a hobby and a sport. Nowhere in my speech did I even mention how cancer affected me personally. In fact, I don’t recall the word ‘cancer’ ever passing my lips other than to mention the name of the nonprofit organization when thanking them for the recognition. That sure spoke volumes about what was important to me in receiving this award. I delivered my speech without any regard for sorrow or gratitude. As I was leaving the podium, I heard deafening silence for a full second before a few people had the compassion to begin clapping as to encourage the others to begin doing so. At that moment, I knew I had just blown it. Thankfully a senior member of our firm was in attendance and she delivered s few words far more appropriate for cause and the event.

For the next few years, the fragility of my ego would be bruised now and then, and I sometimes would respond defensively. These were symptoms of Post Traumatic Success Disorder of which I spoke earlier. In Part Fourteen. I will talk about this a little and then share an experience that was so transformative it rivals the influence my mom’s aneurysm had on my life-saving turnaround in 1986. In Part Fifteen, I plan to share with you some more fun things that have happened with my newly found relatives. Part Sixteen, I expect I will be tying everything together and discuss what all this means for the future. However, with regard to the previous two sentences, I refer you to footnote 2.

Thank you to all who continue to encourage me to keep moving forward.

[1] “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by Its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that It is stupid.”  – Albert Einstein. (Editorially speaking, I find this quote as profound as I find it potentially controversial. There is, of course, the evolutionary doctrine which holds that all land-based lifeforms came from the sea.)

[2] I acknowledge that I have not always kept my promise when I reveal in one part what the next part will contain. New thoughts rise to the surface of consciousness on their own schedule. For further reading on this topic, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) is sure to please. Post Traumatic Success Disorder is just on the horizon at this point of my journey and I feel confident I can keep my promise this time.

[3] I am using hyperbole for dramatic effect. There is a lot published, with which I agree, instructing us that modern-day stress has little in common with our ancestors’ stress over the fear of the saber tooth tiger lurking around the corner. Unfortunately, our amygdalae are atrocious at distinguishing between the two. If the reader is inclined: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2882379/

[4] The on-line classroom was only a budding idea in academia and virtual classrooms were a long way off from becoming mainstream.

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A Son’s Early Christmas Gift

Less than three weeks to go before Christmas and I have been given one of the greatest Christmas gifts any adult child of living parents could ever hope for. My dad suffered a mild heart attack. Yes, you read that correctly and yes, I love my dad and I shudder the thought of ever losing him. I say that his heart attack was a gift because he did not succumb to it. It did not take him away from us.

On the evening of December 5, I received a text from my mom sent to me and my brother informing us that our dad was in the ER with chest pains. After a couple hours and several back and forth texts, we learned that he was in fact in the middle of a heart attack, clinically referred to as a myocardial infarction. He would be kept overnight for more tests and a cardiac catheterization first thing in the morning. Against my mother’s wishes that we not act impulsively, I had an overnight bag packed and was out the door rather quickly to make the three-hour drive to Sussex County in Delaware where they have been living for the past 17 years.

I went straight to the hospital. He was still in the ER and my mom was with him. She had driven him to the hospital that afternoon and had been there ever since. I did not arrive until 11:00 PM. I won’t belabor the details but suffice it to say that his diagnosis of a heart attack was no joke. As I sat with my mom next to his bed in the ER, the nurse began to ask several questions and two of them I found rather jarring. “Do you have a living will?” and “Would you like a minister to visit with you?” Hearing her ask that last question was like a bucket of ice thrown in my face. My immediate thought was “Excuse me! What are you implying?” In that moment, I began to process the notion of the family’s first Christmas without Dad. Every unsaid word between us that I ever wish had been said came rushing through my head and all tomorrows with him began to dissolve before my eyes. For a moment I allowed myself to turn my focus away from how I was responding to all this and look for clues about how he was feeling. We Gorman men never achieved any measurable degree of mastery in talking about how we feel. Nonetheless, I was sensing that he was very frightened and despite the physical presence of my mom and me, he felt alone in his mortality.

Later, my mom and I prepared to leave for the night. She walked out of the room ahead of me. Every unsaid word was stampeding through my mind and I refused to walk out of the room without giving life to the most important amongst them. I turned back to face my dad and took one step towards the side of his bed and I got down on one knee. I took his hand, looked him in the eye and I said, “I love you Dad. You are stubborn and sometimes I think you’re bone-headed, but you’ve always had my back.” It only took about eight or nine seconds for me to say these words to him while we looked into each other’s eyes. But that was plenty of time for both of us to get choked up. In no more than a whisper, he said while holding back tears, “I love you too.” I put my other hand on the back of his head and kissed him right above his forehead. By now I was incapable of speaking through my own tears. The last sentence that I said only to myself is “I am not ready to lose you.” As I walked my mom out to my car, I refused to entertain any outcome that did not include him returning home soon.

The follow morning, corrective procedures were performed to alleviate that which triggered the heart attack. All went as well as we could have hoped. My mom and I arrived back at the hospital and Dad was recovering from the morning’s procedure. The doctor who performed the procedure stopped by to provide us with the post-procedure summary. After explaining things in ways that made it easy for us to understand, he took on a more serious tone and said exactly what I was beginning to conclude on my own. He looked at my mom then at me and said, “Your husband/father is very lucky he got here when he did.”  Yes, we are very lucky. We are very blessed. We are very grateful. And that was only part of my early Christmas gift.

Not only did I receive the gift of the opportunity to say those three little words man-to-man; son-to-dad while he is alive, but the door has also been opened to organize the scores of so many other thoughts and words that flooded my head when I heard the nurse ask if there was denomination preference for clergy. I had been given the chance to use that moment when I knelt by his bedside to explore further what our relationship means to each other and what it has meant throughout the years. Far too often are loved ones lost while their survivors agonize over all that is left unsaid.

In a most surprising way, I shall also be grateful that my, shall I say ‘quiet’, employment situation allowed me to drop everything and be by their side through this.

After my mom and I went home on day two, we had dinner and I returned to the hospital for a one-hour night visit alone. As we sat there, my dad told me something of which I am very aware if even at times only subconsciously. He pointed out that my brother Andrew and I, both in our fifties, are fortunate to enjoy the longevity of both our parents. He is right. But we are more than fortunate. We are truly blessed. Thanks in no small part to social media, I am very aware of so many of my contemporaries who have lost one or both parents. At best I could only ever imagine how such pain could possibly feel. That imagination had become quite vivid.

The following day, my mom and I, along with their dog Latte, headed to the hospital to pick up Dad who was being discharged. Once home, I backed into their driveway to make sure his side of the car was near the front path to the door. I opened the door to help him along and told him I had two things to say. First, “Welcome home!” and second, “I am sure happy it is me saying that and not Saint Peter.”

If I may offer this to all – and I doubt anyone will be hearing this for the first time. Tell you your loved ones you love them. If this is not something you find comfortable, you are not alone. Do it anyway. You will be very happy you did. Trust me on this. Grief, it is said, is nothing more than unexpressed love.

God bless you all! For all who share in the faith and tradition in which I was raised, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. For all others, I wish you a very joyous Holiday Season.

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