I can’t wait for summer to get here!
Those words from my 8-year-old daughter sum up feelings for every kid and adult in the Midwest. “Summer is almost here honey”, I tell her as she rolls her eyes, zips up her jacket, and marches out the door (yes, she’s 8 going on 16).
Summer… what a great time of the year. The upcoming summer weather will not be the only welcome relief. Despite mixed reactions to the CDC mask guidelines announced last week, many people are also excited about the prospect of unrestricted amusing parks, state fairs, and backyard family gatherings. I vote we reboot Summertime by Will Smith as this year's summer anthem, which has to be one the best summer songs of all time. It is hard to believe it was first released 30 years on this very day (May 20, 1991).
As I reflect on the past few months, I think about where we were this time last year – wiping down groceries from the home delivery service, binge watching all 12 Star Wars movies, and introducing my kids to board games for the first time. “Dad, this is what you guys did as kids??”, my daughter quipped reaching for her iPad. What’s great is that we still play the games today… the kid has become quite the Jenga master.
We went through some tough times last year. I experienced the greatest loss of my life when my dad passed away just 39 days after diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. I couldn’t see him the final days of his life due to COVID restrictions, but he was not alone. And I know I’m not alone with the many families who lost loved ones during an unforgettable year.
But for the dark moments, there were contrasting flashes of bright resolve. During the peak of the pandemic, everyday people stepped forward to make sure the lights stayed on, our children continued to learn, and patients were cared for with radically human compassion. Utility workers, teachers, and nurses were among thousands of essential workers who literally saved lives. And what a special Mother’s Day we celebrated this year. She supported her family, comforted her co-workers, and transformed herself from mom to mom-slash-teacher. In many instances she left behind a career and a shattered glass ceiling she and other women broke through.
Over time, their selflessness will be remembered but the heart of their stories will be the struggle endured. Perseverance will be celebrated. That single word, “perseverance”, illuminates through grief, doubt, and hardship. It also serves as a beacon of hope, imagination, and joy.
Such as the case in February when NASA’s most advanced land rover touched down on Mars recording the first audio on the red planet. Today, it captures the most striking images ever seen. It is a profound first step of human exploration in further understanding life in the universe. How fitting that it is named Perseverance.
We are inspired by stories of never giving up, not quitting, and pushing through adversity. But often times it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel particularly in a world today fraught with so many challenges. So how do we know if we made the right decisions and how do we keep pressing forward? Everyone’s path is different, but here are a few thoughts:
What happened, happened. Have you ever thought back to something and said, “if only I had done this instead” or “I wish I wouldn’t have done that”? Regrets are a natural part of human behavior, but quite simply put we cannot change the past. Nor should we want to. Think about the course of your life and focus on what is good in it today – your partner, cherished memories with your children, new friendships, etc. While you may wish you had taken that job, finished school, or never dated that person in your past, you most certainly would be trading those wishes for one of the good things in your life today. Is it worth the risk?
The odds are not against you, my friend. A 12-year-old boy was adopted after his father’s death. His biological parents named him Rolihlahla, an uncommon name in his country, which means “troublemaker”. In his early 20s, he was thrown out of college for breaking several university rules. He would later complete his coursework elsewhere to earn a college degree only to find himself arrested several times in confrontation with the law.
He was eventually sentenced to life in prison due to his defiant nature. An adopted child, kicked out of school, and insistent on breaking rules would now spend the rest of his adult life behind bars. The odds had seemed to catch up with him.
During prison, the middle-aged convict studied law and continued a course of rebelliousness. But you see, the “trouble, rule breaking, and confrontations” he had been making all of those years was done so being an activist against the government’s deeply rooted apartheid in his homeland. He had become quite the celebrity in his native country and after 27 years in prison, he was released.
At age of 75, the “troublemaker” received the Noble Peace Prize and would go on to become the first democratically elected president of South Africa. The odds were against that little boy who would grow up to become one of the most respected leaders the world has ever known. His full name… Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
Know that this too shall pass. “Go stand over there, look at the camera, and try not blink”, she said with deliberate condescension. Begrudgingly and with an attitude of my own, I stood there waiting for the flash. “I can’t believe I’m here”, I said to myself. I just turned 20, was a full-time college student, and in a few months, I was going to be a father. I needed help. I was there getting my human services identification card or as we called it back then my “welfare class photo”.
After our daughter was born, my wife (we have since divorced) and I committed ourselves to continue college full-time. We were on welfare, food stamps, WIC, and off-campus Section 8 housing. We scheduled our classes so that they staggered on top of each other. I’d go to my Physics class then sprint outside to an idling car with my wife and daughter in tow. I’d jump in the driver seat, speed across campus, and drop my wife off at her Humanities class. We did this routine for three years. Everyday.
The toughest was 2nd quarter of my junior year. Classes had become more difficult; our car broke down and I was denied an internship that I really needed. I was ready to quit and called my mother to come back home. Today, she says she doesn’t remember the call at all and the only thing I remember about it is her saying “son, this too shall pass”. The words hit me with immense clarity and reassurance. My wife and I both went on to graduate from college together never once sitting out a quarter. Those four words changed my life.
It is written that perseverance is the power that fuels our becoming – author unknown. We have been through a lot and as is life, will likely go through more. That said, I believe that we all endured the past year to become something extraordinary. It has been a test of human resolve. My high school football coach used to say, “it is hard to beat someone who never gives up”. Keep pressing forward because there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. Go see what it is.
Enjoy the upcoming summer. Get outside and enjoy the weather and let the great summer anthem say it all…
Summer, summer, summertime (summertime) time to sit back and unwind” (had to leave you with little Fresh Prince throwback).