The ability of the weather to have an impact on my mood never ceases to amaze me. At the end of the day I always have the option of choosing my attitude, but isn’t it so much easier on perfect summer nights like this?
Three years ago today it was a stunningly perfect weather Saturday. Dominic had a couple of soccer games in the Madison area. The boys all brought squirt guns along with and had an epic water fight after one of the games. Gavin found a tree to climb. Becky and I got way too much sun, but it felt awesome!
Why do I remember the weather so well? That was one of the toughest days of my life. That was the day when I knew in my gut that Dad was not going to pull through after his stroke.
There’s a lot that happened on that Saturday. Even with it being one of the most difficult days in my life I remember it with such vibrancy – the highs and the lows. The day seemed to be a constant rollercoaster of emotions. One moment I was ready to break down, the next I was smiling and laughing. Then I’d feel a little crushed and just need a little time to myself, and then I’d be surrounded with great memories of Dad.
While the tone was so dark, it was still a day I am very thankful for. I learned so much that day, felt things I’d never felt before, and had experiences I still can’t even being to explain. Reading the chapter I wrote about that day I can’t help but shake my head wondering how that much could’ve happened in one day.
One thing in particular really resonated with me today for a variety of reasons. Over the past year or two I’ve talked a lot about “nudges,” those times when something seems like it nudges you down a certain path or in a specific direction. I can’t really explain it, I can’t will it into being, but when nudged I’ve learned to go with it.
That beautifully sunny Saturday included a very different kind of nudge.
We had opted to carpool with one of the other parents to the soccer game. We weren’t even two miles out of La Crosse when I got the call that recovery wasn’t an option and Dad wasn’t going to be around much longer. I was sitting shotgun while Eric drove. Becky sat right behind me and held the hand I stretched back from the front seat of the vehicle. I explained to Eric what I’d just learned and he very calmly asked if I wanted to head back home.
Throughout the past couple of soccer seasons I’d gotten to know Eric enough to know he’s got a huge heart and is a great person to talk with. Every interaction I’d had with him left me smiling more than I was before our conversation. That said, we weren’t best friends or anything like that, more like friends of consequence due to being soccer dads. Up until this point we hadn’t talked about anything overly personal.
When Eric asked if I’d like to turn back I had a feeling the right thing to do was carry on. Little did I know just how powerful my time with Eric would be that day.
On the drive he did an awesome job of following my lead, listening when I talked, talking about other things when I uncomfortably shifted the topic of conversation to change my focus away from Dad. I still don’t know how he did it, but he handled the situation perfectly. Even more important than handling it with perfection were a couple of key things.
First off, he shared his thoughts from the perspective of both a father and son. With Dad not there Eric did a wonderful job of helping me remember both perspectives.
The other thing he did will stay with me for the rest of my life. In one of the many moments of he silence he asked, “Mike, can I tell you a story? It might not be what you want to hear, but it might be one you need to hear.”
I was amazed at how calmly he asked that question. The fact that he asked instead of just telling was especially poignant and was greatly appreciated. Since this conversation I’ve held that memory tight in my head and have often emulated his question when I’m talking with someone who’s facing a difficult moment and might need to hear something tough. When they say no I respect that, just as I know he would have.
After I’d said yes he went on to tell me a story that related to Dad’s situation. To say it was heartbreaking would be an understatement. That said, it truly was EXACTLY what I’d needed to hear in that moment. It made a profoundly deep impact on me and I carry it in my soul to this day.
When I talk about nudges this wasn’t anything so subtle. This story was a full blown kick in the shins! But it was exactly what I’d needed to hear. I’m eternally grateful for the way Eric shared this story with me.
As I said, there were so many things that happened that day. While the overwhelming majority were difficult, there were many more bright spots; I just needed to take some time to see them. One of the brightest was that time spent with Eric. While nudges are usually something very subtle, Eric was exactly the nudge in human form I needed that day in addition to my family.
Eric, for reals, thank you so much for listening, sharing, and taking time to care for me on what was one of the most difficult days of my life. I’m so thankful for the incredibly compassionate way you helped guide me in the right direction. Thank you!