If you could know the way you were going to die, would you want to know? It was a question that has been asked through the years, and from as far back as I can remember, I always thought I wanted to know. It felt like a way to be as ready as you could be. To do as much of the things on your list. To say ‘no’ to all the things that wouldn’t matter at the end. To make the most out of life before you were out of it.
Of course, the question is asked about the end of life, but death comes in so many forms. The death of an identity, of a relationship, of a dream. Things not going the way you hope they will. So many times I’ve prayed for very specific things, but made the mistake of thinking that I also got a say in the way they’d be answered. Silly me.
We’re coming out of a Memorial Day weekend where the date has a strange history. As I mentioned in the last blog, May 30th in particular is one that has been particularly significant, in two year cycles, where major parts of who I was, who I thought I would be, would die.
May of 2016 saw us in the depths of foster care. Two little girls were just ending their time in our home. What started as the short-term placement for a 11-month-old we’d call Birdie was a step in a county outlined process for adoption. The three months she needed before returning to her parents would make us eligible for whatever came next in adoption. Just a few days in that plan was updated by the revelation that her 22-month-old sister (that we’d call Scout) was also in need of a home, and bringing them together felt like the best and right thing to do.
So, we got another bed, said another prayer, and enjoyed the unpredictable ride that had plenty of the unexpected, but also unimaginable beauty. A first step from Birdie, the gasp of Scout seeing her sister again when she first walked in, a 1 and 2-year-old pair of birthday parties attended by extended family as if they’d been there from day one.
As the expected end of their time came, we prepared our house for adoption. Got nervous with every unexpected phone call wondering, “could this be the one?!” Well, it wasn’t one, but two. A call letting us know that two babies, 4-days-old, had been abandoned at the hospital. On the 5th day, they be separated and placed into homes, but because our house had been qualified for two children under two, we were one of few places that could take them, adopt them, and keep them together. It felt ordained.
We brought them home, named them Atticus and Elliott and loved them hard. Our family was now complete. This vision for what we would look like for the rest of time had come into focus. It was crazy and chaotic and sleepless and perfectly beautiful. Meant to be. Until it wasn’t.
The dream of what our family would look like died when we got a phone call about the misrepresentation of their adoptability. That it was the mistake of an emergency placement worker who, in the urgency to keep them together, didn’t get it right.
We were devastated. Grief stricken. At the bottom of the valley. If we had known at the start of the journey how this dream would die, we would have never started. At least I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have. As much as there was so much good that came right up until that white van pulled up and drove them away, I don’t honestly think we would have jumped in if we knew how freaking hard that season was going to be.
And if we hadn’t started the journey, we wouldn’t have finished it. We wouldn’t have ever met Noah or her birth mama. One of the singularly brightest parts of my entire life may never had been in it if I had been aware of how much it was going to take to get to the happy ending.
Thank God for not knowing how or when things/dreams/identities in our life are going to die.
In 2018, May 30 was my last day at Disney. After 17 years at the company, the vision for the good that could come in leaving it was the permission to jump. Moving from California to do work with Rachel in a company we’d build together was the plan. It would be good work that helped people, and it was work that I would do for the rest of my life.
Then two years to the day, my marriage ended, and with it, my role in the company I left for. My vision for the future, both in my family and my work identity died on that day. In the months leading up to making such a huge decision, would I have left my job as head of sales at the world’s biggest media company for a media start-up with a two-year self-life?
Hell no. Not for one moment. I would have stayed… and died in other ways. Died for lack of growth, absence of meaning, a lack of purpose. I would have died from underutilizing my potential, playing safe and doing what made sense to everyone else.
I look back at videos from the end of my time at Disney and I am unrecognizable. The growth that came in the decision to leave happened not in spite of things not going my way, but because of them. Need proof? I found some good use from the documentary that never found its way to theaters — evidence of a near-dead me, before making a leap would give me life:
So here we are, on yet another Memorial Day, but one that was full of fun and community and love. One that was the beneficiary of time revealing that the hard things from two years ago, or two years before it or two years before it would show themselves to have given way to good. It brought me back to my Grandma Lee and the advice she gave me in the middle of divorce as chronicled in Built Through Courage:
“My grandma Lee is a baller. She’s so wise, sassy, and strong. At nearly a century of life, she’s seen it all. So when she called me in the midst of this latest journey of becoming to ask me how it was going, I gave it to her straight as I always do.
I told her, “It’s been hard but good. I’m hopeful and terrified. Stronger and still sad.”
And that’s the thing with moving into the unknown. It requires an abil- ity to hold both at the same time. To know that it makes you normal to be both excited and scared. Encouraged and insecure. The duality is part of what produces growth. That it exists is a sign that you’re doing something right in creating distance from your comfort zone.
In the way that only a ninety-nine-year-old can, my grandma told me something that I need to tell you. She said, “Well, David, I can tell you this:
I’ve been through a lot of hard times. I’ve experienced so much loss and so much pain, and the thing I know, having been through it, is that I always got to the other side. Every single time. And you will too. You won’t enjoy it while it’s happening, but the hard parts will always give way to the good.”
This woman was the daughter of immigrants, a veteran of war, a single mother to five who made it through divorce, buried another husband, lost a son to cancer and a grandson by suicide, got a front-row seat to the perils of mental illness, and has now said goodbye to nearly all of her friends. As I said, she’s been through it all. And in every case, she sits on the other side of the hardest seasons of her life.
Sometimes it takes the perspective of a ninety-nine-year-old rock star to remind you of the fact that you’ll see the other side too. Forging into the unknown is not for the faint of heart. You’ll face struggle and fear. You’ll question your worthiness, but like every headwind that’s inevitably going to come your way, this, too, shall pass.”
And here we are. Sitting here, feeling the benefit of perspective. Hoping I can remember these lessons the next time hard things come a knockin’. It’s not if, but when.
Today, I’m grateful for the passage of time. Especially connected to the wisdom of Grandma Lee then, and the model of Grandma Lee now. Now Grandma Lee knows what comes next. She’s got a better glimpse at what happens, and even in that “knowing”, she’s walking toward it with the faith and grit and resilience that served her so well for the last century of time.
In the end, if you’re on the cusp of jumping into something big, you won’t know what you’re gonna get in taking that leap of faith. It’s a blessing that you won’t. If I’d have known what was coming next, if I’d have known what of my life would die, I wouldn’t have had the courage to live. Becoming who I am has happened in part because of not knowing what came next. Thank God. Hoping I can continue to step into all that’s next with the same spirit embodied by my Gram in this late season of life. With a ton of faith, appreciating that things are happening just as they need. Taking steps anyway with an appreciation that it’s only in time that why everything has happened will be fully revealed.
Until next time… sending my best… xo, Dave