Sunday, February 28, 2010

Milestones

12 January 2010
A colleague of mine will celebrate her 35th anniversary working for the Corps of Engineers tomorrow. Thirty five years.
 
I turned forty years old a week ago.
 
Next week I will have been working in plan formulation for the Corps for three years.
 
My wife and I celebrated five happy years together last Friday. And we have been married ten years. (That was a joke. A JOKE, guys.)
 
All of these celebrations, coming as they have in short order, have made me think about the milestones in our lives, and about the expectations that come with them. Did you accomplish what you wanted to in your thirty five years of labor for the Federal Government? Did I complete my dissertation by the time I reached forty? Have we traveled to the places Kathe and I dreamed of when we got hitched? Do I understand the process well enough after three years to be comfortable with my decision making?
 
We humans use milestones to help us reflect, to look backwards, and to evaluate. It is a positive thing to note accomplishments and see where we our plans have come to fruition. But I have also found myself a little discouraged recently. Fortunately, a friend pointed me in direction of a new blog this week... written by a woman who suffered the death of her seventeen-year old daughter and the death of her marriage in a six-month span. The theme of the blog is "Do Over"  (www.thelifeilove2010.blogspot.com). She sees the new year as an opportunity to make changes in her life - a real honest-to-goodness 'do-over' - the kind we used in kindergarten when the sun was in our eyes and we missed the ball. She brings an upbeat approach to a time in her life that would bring just about anyone down. She, however, is goal-oriented and focused and.... happy.
 
She confesses to having the sad times, but is determined not to let the sad times define her.
 
One of the continuing themes in my writing is perspective. I tend to get wrapped up in the stresses of my life, whether the dissertation, the research, the job, the marriage, the teaching, or whatever among the thousands of things that are competing for my attention, and focus on the details of the stress (I even took a break while writing this to deal with a minor project related crisis, and got so frustrated that I punched the chair....). What I then find is that once in a while, I see a picture or a vignette of someone's life that reminds me of the larger picture - what is really important in this life. Helping others. Acting with compassion. Pursuing justice. Doing work - with my own hands - that I can be proud of. Singing. Smiling. Forgiving. Loving.
 
So I dropped the ball on all of these things. And now that I have missed the ball....
 
Do Over! I think I'll start today.

Red Letter Day

15 Jan 2009
I came into the Project Management Community of Practice workshop here in Sacramento, sat down and started to fill out the name plate as we were instructed to do. All across the room were people from different districts of the Corps of Engineers - from Huntsville Alabama, to the Alaska guys from Anchorage. To my left sat a guy from Walla Walla District, to my right was a guy from the Far East Division - he was representing the Korean District.
 
They had provided four markers for the entire class, so we were sharing back and forth. Ted, the PM from Korea, smiled and said "You know, in Korea, you never write your name with a red pen. You only do that for people who are dead."
 
Even now as I write this, three days later, I have no idea what the proper response is (other than to slowly put down the red pen). He chuckled about it, and said, "Just something to be aware of if you are ever in Korea - it is a very strong custom."
 
It got me to thinking about how many things would be easier if they simply color coded different elements in your life. I dated the wrong girl for a very unhappy period of my life. My parents had a difficult line to walk - they could express their displeasure with my choice and risk alienating me, or they could be as accepting as possible and be there to pick up the pieces. And work very hard not to let me know the mistake I was making.
 
Color code those days black, and I'd have known.
 
I found out tonight that a dear friend died this week. Gilberto, my friend from Antigua, the guy who took care of me and watched over me while I was in Guatemala, fell from the ladder and died while picking an avocado. He was a gentle, quiet man who laughed kindly at my silly jokes, who tended the flowers in the garden, and who has been my friend since I first visited Antigua in 1995. I miss his laughter, and his easy smile.
 
Once, when I was leaving to run some errands, I told him that I'd be back in about 15 minutes. Two hours later, I showed up. From that point on, every time I left, he'd joke about me being back in "15 minutes". The joke never got old, and he'd laugh with me every time. I loved him, and I miss him.
 
His name is engraved in red on my soul.