The Power to Prevail; Turning Your Adversities into Advantages
By David Foster
For most people, driving is about getting from one place to the next. But for me, twenty dollars' worth of gas can be worth two thousand dollars' worth of therapy.
Nearly all my "eureka moments" have come after a few hours of solitude behind the wheel. I find it amazing how the subconscious can untie mental knots and smooth out emotional kinks during a cruise away from the daily routine.
That's why I wanted to be alone on a recent road trip. My mother requested that I drive up to inspect the new headstone she'd had placed on my father's grave. I had neither the time nor inclination to make the trip, but out of respect for her wishes and his memory, I drove two hours north. Alone and with time to ponder the past, my mind turned to my childhood and what seemed like simpler, saner days. Today it seems like an idyllic time, the period before loss and grief diluted my zest and zeal for life. How I long to be that naive and innocent again!
Like most county seats in Kentucky, my hometown revolved around the downtown square. Before the Super Wal-Marts of the world hit town, it served as the hub of commerce and remained a perpetual beehive of activity. Now it's just several rows of old buildings either standing empty or occupied by local and state government offices.
As I drove around the square, I saw the old Slinkers jewelry store, where I bought my wife's engagement ring. Today it stands abandoned. Next door is the old pool hall, where I spent more than my share of carefree afternoons. At the northeast end of the square I took a hard right, up West Washington Avenue. At one time, most of our small-town aristocracy lived on this street. I passed several big, white-on-white, southern-style homes and loads of freshly painted wrought iron. At the end of the road on the right stood the dilapidated railroad station; to the left, the entrance to our city cemetery. As I passed through the big, imposing iron gates, I felt a familiar sadness come over me. I suddenly remembered what I had been trying to forget for more than a year-my dad died too soon, with too much left unsaid between us.
I drove reluctantly to my dad's gravesite. The tombstone-a stately gray slab of granite-features on one side only the simple inscription of our family's name, in block letters. On the other side is my father's full name, Wilton Edward Foster, along with the years of his birth and death. Nothing ornate or ostentatious about it.
My "eureka" moment came when I saw, etched into the stone between the two dates, a simple dash. And then it hit me: my father's entire life had been reduced to a dash. People passing by could read his name, when he was born, when he died, but nothing about his life. I wondered if I needed to stand there and say to passersby, "I'm part of his dash! He had me, fought in a world war, and did a lot of other things in his dash." Instead of feeling sad that my father had died, my soul flooded with gladness that he had lived. Because my father lived in his dash, I am alive in mine.
It also struck me that my father is not so much dead as done. He is done in his dash; but I am still working on mine. Yea, God! Right there in that cemetery, surrounded by the remains and reminders of death, I came fully alive. It occurred to me that even as I stood in the land of the dead, I was about to reenter the land of the living. I'm going to leave here, I thought, but these people are staying.
And in an instant a trip I'd dreaded became a breakthrough. Finally, I saw before me a clear choice. I could turn my grief into gladness by looking at this event differently. I could be more glad that I had had my father than mad that he was gone. When someone asked Michael Jordan, the basketball legend, how he dealt with the tragic murder of his father, he said, "I am thankful that I had my father for the first thirty-six years of my life. I had him in the formative years. I had him when I really needed him."
Like Michael, I can be grateful or hateful. So can you.