Sometimes, hope fades as the fleeting rays of twilight. Sometimes, the world strikes you with shattering rage. Sometimes, you wish you could simply fade away into the sands of time. In those times, you find out what really matters.
Everything had been going to plan. I had a job I enjoyed, a community I valued, and a wife I loved. Life was good.
Wise men have said that the only thing constant in life is change. So it was for me. With the breaking of the recession, my project was canceled. I kept my job, but the work wasn’t so interesting.
Much of it involved pressing buttons and entering data into a computer program. The moments of thought and challenge were offset by hours of tedious labor. Work gives so much meaning and self worth, and to have that taken away was a blow.
I was stuck. So I did what everyone tells you to do when you get stuck: go for an MBA. Perhaps it was a means of avoiding taking action. Maybe I was putting off taking responsibility. Those things could have been part of it, but I did not see any other options. I was blind to them. To me, an MBA was the final attempt at reviving my stalled career.
In the span of a few months, I wrote the essays, studied for and took the GMAT, and filed my application to Kellogg School of Management. I was confident my odds for acceptance were good.
Meanwhile, I stayed stuck at work. I was transferred to another project in the company, and due to the way the work was set up, we spent a lot of time idle. But if I just got accepted into the MBA program, I’d have the grounds to request a move to something more interesting.
It is fitting that the day I heard back from Kellogg was October 31. I don’t usually take the Hallows’ Eve darkness seriously, but it was real then. The rejection struck with the force of a freight train. I was a man who had rolled his last dice with everything all in. That roll had come up empty.
You may look at me and say that my hopelessness was irrational. It was. For all the skills and talents at my disposal, it makes no sense for me to despair. But then, people are not rational. I am no exception. All the options that I saw before me had closed.
Amidst the pain, I questioned my very life. Countless times, I would have welcomed death with open arms. Surely it would be easier than living. But I lacked to the courage to bring that death myself. I was too afraid. Or so I thought at the time.
As I look back, I no longer see my hesitation as a matter of weakness. Rather, it came from deep within – a questioning. Memories of something else waged war on my desperation.
I remembered the time I slept in a cave with none but the closest of friends. We had hiked through the afternoon and set up camp at Woodcutter’s Cave – an enclave in the rock above flowing waterfalls. We shared a feast and told stories late into the night. The sound of the falling water set the rhythm as bonds of friendship deepened. The star-filled sky shone with the light of love.
I remembered visiting widows on Sunday afternoons. And though by many standards these men and women had nothing, they were rich beyond belief. They welcomed us with open arms and bestowed on us the honor of their stories. Amidst the injustice of their situation, there was humanity.
I remembered the brothers of my community. Kirk and Darin came to where I was. To my home they visited and offered prayers of comfort. Although my heart refused to believe them, they blessed me.
I remembered the love of a woman. In my hours of stillness and despair, she stood by me. And when I was alone amidst the gloom, she held me. She spoke the words of hope that I was unable to speak for myself.
I remembered life.
It tugged at me. It demanded I be certain of my choice. Death is final. There would never be another chance.
And slowly, life began to win.
Nothing in that transition was swift, but it came nonetheless. As the water breaks through a dam, first at a trickle, then at a stream, then bursting forth, such was the return of hope. And I live.
No one wishes hardship upon themselves, but I am grateful for that time. It taught me lessons I could never have learned any other way. Those lessons will stay with me forever.
From my pain and hopelessness, I understood the pain and hopelessness of others. While the situation may be different, I know what it’s like to walk under the shadow. I have witnessed the despair it brings. It compels me to reach out and help those that I can.
In the whirlwind of circumstance, I understood that the power was still mine. I cannot choose what happens, but I can choose to happen. How I respond is up to me.
Out of questioning my very desire to live, I understood the value of life. What a gift we have been given. What a tremendous opportunity we have. Life is priceless. It’s worth fighting for.
But most of all, I understood that life is more than just breathing. Life is about being active. Life is about making a difference. Life is about love. Life is about joy. Life is about other people. Life is about shaking the earth with everything you’ve got.
Crown of Hope. I made this photo near Lokichogio, Kenya.