― Helen Keller,
We have left so many good people behind. Two friends whose lives ended by their own hand, another whose time with us ended abruptly, and far too soon. We are not alone in our grief, nor in our insecurity. One of the vices of our modern means of communicating is to share the news, and despair, of hardships once born only by those close at hand.
But, this has also been a year of personal illumination, best told with two stories:
Killer hurricanes brought death and destruction of biblical proportions far and wide, two into an area of the world we have visited repeatedly, and grown to love. The lives, and livelihoods, of the people in the storms' paths were profoundly altered, or vanished forever. Yet, amid the suffering - an outpouring of love, of support and sacrifice. People opening their wallets, their homes, their businesses to ensure that those who had lost everything were cared for. One of our family members deployed with his military unit, seeing it all first hand. A voice among the ruins rose to make a simple, eloquent, powerful statement of human perseverance - "If it's only a generator, a door on two saw horses and a blender, we'll be making Painkillers on the beach while everyone is rebuilding."
Individual achievement belongs, first and most obviously, to the person in the arena. Others may cheer, shout encouragement or pick the contestant up when they falter, but it is the one who meets the challenge head on who suffers, and stumbles and, ultimately perseveres. Over the last six years I saw, up close, the inner strength it takes to earn a doctorate. My wife had every reason to boast and strut. This is what she said (in part), the remarks she made in front of friends, colleagues and a live audience of thousands:
"Winnie the Poo said that sometimes the littlest heart contains the most gratitude."
Some of us didn't make it to the end of 2017. We will never forget them. But, the rest of us - in all of our insecurity and uncertainty - carry on with a lot of gratitude in our little hearts.