February 9th, 2018
I used to spend my afternoons working inside Philz Coffee at Facebook Headquarters. Before the pandemic, when life was normal, maybe even ideal; I would finish my workdays in this happy place prior to heading home. This Friday, I was preparing for my team’s weekly “Stand Down” meeting when I received a text from my brother.
Mom called. They’re heading to the hospital. Dad thinks his heart is acting up.
I called him and was told that Dad had been shoveling snow when he came into the house very restless, saying that he didn’t feel good and might need to go to the hospital… If you know my dad, and his family, this was alarming. My dad once cut his thigh with a chainsaw, drove himself to the hospital, got stitches and finished his work day. Another time he sliced his leg at work, duct taped it to “stop the squirting blood,” finished his work day, then got stitches. He had a huge distrust of doctors and hospitals.
Aside from that, several years prior, my Grandpa (Dad’s dad), came in from shoveling snow, poured himself a glass of water and fell over dead in the kitchen. A few years later, Grandma suffered a massive heart attack which claimed her before the ambulance arrived at the hospital. So Dad’s side of the family didn’t really have a significant history of cardiac troubles until “the day.”
They’re flying Dad to Rockford for surgery. He has an Aortic Aneurysm.
I had the Stand Down meeting and told my team, I wouldn’t be in for a couple weeks. At minimum I’d be visiting my dad in Illinois, more likely I’d be planning a funeral. I downloaded my projects and responsibilities, answered questions and set the team on auto-pilot.
Shortly after arriving home, my Mom called with my brothers on the line…
Your Father went into cardiac arrest on the flight. They got a pulse back and rushed him into surgery. He is alive on the cardiac bypass machine and the surgeon is telling me there is nothing to fix. His aorta dissected through the valve and into his heart. Do you boys have any questions before they remove him from life support?
When I got off the call, I went into my bedroom, shut the door and let out a flood of hurt that I had never experienced before. In movies, I had always watched scenes of people overcome by grief. Sobbing, shaking, yelling. I always thought, “this is ridiculous,” yet this is where I found myself, in a state of uncontrollable grief and pain… I had never felt a part of me die before. To be honest, I never imagined it was possible.
You see, I’ve always been different than other people. I’ve led a life surrounded by trauma, sickness, and death; yet I didn’t “feel” it. At 19, I managed the morgue at our hospital, assisted with autopsies and cleaned up afterward. I worked on ambulances, was an Army Medic – essentially spending my 20’s providing security and medical care in Iraq or preparing to return. The cycle of life was interesting to me. It was normal. Nothing to fuss over. It’s the way things are on Earth.
My wife rushed frantically into the bedroom, completely alarmed at my state. She had never known me to react to life in manner other than calm and quiet planning. I told her to get out. “Leave me alone!” I had lived my life largely alone, dependent on my strength and ingenuity, but right now; I was weak. I was out of control, ashamed, and afraid. When the tears would no longer come and I stopped shaking, I emerged from the bedroom. I sent the email to my management, letting them know I was flying out and no longer checking email. They could call if needed. I booked flights and confronted a fear that I had never known. The fear of not being in control. The fear of what others would think of me.
When real-life and peace won’t make amends. When all these starts, start feeling like these ends.
Like the world is unraveling and I’m bound to come undone...Hillsong United “Starts & Ends”
I knew that life wouldn’t be the same. What I didn’t know was that for the next year, I would be vulnerable. Emotionally disarmed. In the coming months, I would realize that I was broken. I would wonder if I could I ever recover myself?
Why would I begin Thoughts & Stories for Owning Life here?
Around 10 years old, I chose “to matter.” I chose to lead a different life from those I grew up with. I chose set a goal: Get out of the Cornfield at all costs. I chose to adventure into the unknown in search of a life worth the struggle. In search of becoming the old men in the diner.
At age 36, on a flight back to the Cornfield, it was the first time I had ever looked in the rear view mirror. It was the first time I truly reflected on the path I had run. I wondered how I had journeyed through 4 International Incidents and arrived at a Fortune 100 company. It was the first time I truly realized the strength and confidence my Father had imparted to me. It was now that I realized that I hadn’t done this alone. Dad deserved so much more credit than I had ever given him…
and it was the first time I couldn’t tell him Thank You.
Fortunately, he and I were on good terms. I didn’t have regrettable words to take back. No unsettled issues to live with. But I had lost my greatest motivator. How could I have just realized this at 30,000 feet, returning to the Cornfield, the place of my greatest discontent?
If you join my journey, you won’t hear a superhuman story. You’ll follow an angry child on a journey to prove people wrong, to find adventure in the hopes of discovering something meaningful… a purpose worth the struggle. You’ll learn the lessons of a young adult who is nothing special, yet has experiences which have been the topic of discussion in cafes and diners all over the world.
Maybe you will find yourself in a different context, a different reality, starting a new journey. A journey to find purpose & meaning worth the struggle.
A journey to correct past mistakes, to reclaim opportunities you previously passed up…