I know many smart people – and even a good number who are brilliant. I know far fewer who are wise.
On July 5th, one of those rare, wise individuals passed away. Dr. Roger Fransecky was not really a friend – perhaps better described as a respected and admired acquaintance as our paths only crossed on occasion, and that will forever be my loss.
Roger was the founder and CEO of The Apogee Group, a global management, consulting and leadership development organization which he founded in 1995. I did not view Roger as a guru on leadership; I did view him as a guru on something much more important: life.
Roger specialized in reminding us how fleeting life can be – and how we should not only recognize, but embrace the moments we have. I have attempted to encourage many of my clients to see the worth of being less focused on remembrance or planning, so as to allow themselves to be more fully consumed with the present. This is a difficult concept for some, but Dr. Fransecky makes the case with poignancy and beauty.
His writing is stunning – and I want to share just a few snippets from an unusually profound mind…
Roger cites this charming passage from Jim Harkness:
"In the town where I grew up, the public library was on Washington Street. It was a square building of thick brown bricks. Inside, a marble stairway led from the first floor to the second. The ladies who worked in the library adhered relentlessly to stereotype. They spoke only in whispers, and I saw them all as agelessly fusty. From behind a variety of spectacles they kept watch with moist, vigilant eyes. Their skirts always fell inches longer than the current style. If, stretching on tiptoe to remove a volume from some top shelf, one of the ladies inadvertently exposed calf or knee, the skin gleamed pale as bleached book paper.
I couldn't guess how many thousands of hours I spent in the public library. Aside from an occasional high school teacher who came to check out "The Snow Goose," the-stacks were usually deserted. Husks of dead crickets lay on the dusty window sills and a non-unpleasant smell of rotting bindings pervaded the air. During the summer, dehumidifiers whined and dripped in the background...In the evenings I poked down shadowy aisles and read The Sun Also Rises in one sitting.
Doubtless it is all inevitable, and perhaps in some ways to the good. So grant the new libraries their due: allow them their uses, their computer- clatter, even their impoverished professional pop-speak. But I hope somewhere there survive at least a few dim rooms with round ceilings, where pale ladies speak softly and with the authority of character rather than bureaucracy. I hope there remain a few readers for whom old brown libraries constitute a philosophical as much as a physical presence. I hope that for at least a few summers to come, high shelves full of real books still lure certain American boys... toward the spacious life of reverie."
Roger then reflects:
While my sprawling collection of computers, iPods and iPads, smartphones, and the evening cacophony of email nudges and blinking LED's demonstrate I am no Luddite, I find Jim’s recollection so poignant because those very libraries have been replaced by the spawn of those more persuasive technologies. More and more each day our world is filled with the clatter of pop-speak – with the shattering announcements of new channels of input, new information formats, more invitations to sample, download, listen, watch, more "data smog" for tired minds.
Nevertheless, I remain resolutely, if provisionally optimistic. The promises of the new technologies may indeed be fulfilled. They could and should and may indeed enrich all our lives. But they will do so only if we bring to them the riches that our own lives already possess ~ the courage, the integrity, the curiosity, and the vulnerable but essential sense of our own selves…
In my work with leaders, I try to balance the awesome potential of MORE, with the potent invitation for less: more time to think, to recall, to ponder, to listen. The deepest truths about ourselves don't reside "out there," but it's easier to surrender and watch, dial, switch, multi-task. And what we lose in the process may never be recovered.
Suddenly and tragically, Roger lost the love of his life, Nancy, in 2008. His reflections on this loss continued for the rest of his life…
I wasn't ready to say goodbye.
Four years ago on August 8th, with a suddenness that still makes me breathless, my dear wife Nancy died. I have written about her, dreamed for her voice and honored her each day. The depth of missing her has never diminished, for grief has no calendar or rules. I listen for her voice when I write, for she was my editor and muse, and toughest critic. She understood deeply the rhythms of our life, and made us pause to understand and celebrate them. I find delight in my memories of her, and what we were together.
Marriages that "curate" over time find a line between partnership and pleasure, and the spaces between the broad and brittle moments that make us pause, discover laughter, surrender control, and clutch delight. Falling forward each day seems so much easier for two. I am trying it alone…
Each day I am reminded that we must surrender to the inevitable and the uncertain to allow life to teach and comfort us. It means trusting that we can fall forward into life and allow. One of the gifts I gave Nancy some years ago was a large sign, ALLOW, that sat above her desk. It now sits with her ashes.
I often take walks to remind myself of the invitation of twilight. To me, it's the time of the day for simple inventories and long breaths. Twilight offers a time when special things happen around us, when we can choose to become aware of them in a special way. In the same way awareness changes my perception of life, sensing nature's changes reminds me of the gift of each day, and the fact that we all become and end in a cycle as old as time.
I am falling forward into a new life now, one that I couldn't ever predict for myself. Somewhere in all of this are the lessons of living more deeply and stepping out of my old, overscheduled life to listen and feel more deeply. In truth, to slow down and Be In my life.
Terrible loss and unwelcome change punches us and makes us find ourselves again. T.S. Eliot wrote: "What we call the beginning is often the end. To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."
And so I Fall Forward.
In 2012 Roger was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He reflected:
Life is rich with irony. I had just signed the final agreement with my partners to shift much of the day to day responsibilities of our practice so as to allow me more time to write and reflect. Just a few hours later, on that very day, I received the startling diagnosis. Rarely have I been ill, so it would seem that I am getting the "Big One" after all these years of good health. Today, I am a happy parent, and a new grandparent, all in the full sunshine of great friends and a season of my own making. I was not expecting to walk smack into darkness. After all, I am usually the one to bring the light of hope, humor, optimism and possibility to my family, friends, clients, students, and partners, during times of uncertainty.
The Shadow met me in middle of that swaying bridge and redirected me to a new Next I could never have anticipated. In this season, which will soon be aflame with October's lemoning of the leaves and the bringing of ripeness and sharpness to each chilly morning, I am rather saddled with an uncertain future. Sickness has a way of deferring the invitation to enter a new, favorite season. I am resolute in not letting that happen this bright Autumn.
When dramatic changes block the path you've prepared, it comes as an affront to your sense of order, and, yes, to your feeling of control. These calamities are quick to show us that we aren't in control of anything. Our well-ordered days often mask the stark realization that we are really only furniture movers in life. Far larger plans are afoot, and we are often left standing at the margins watching as Life assumes a course without our self-important permission…
In the days since meeting the shadow, I have been struck by how little we are present in our own experience. Noise and distractions pull us out of ourselves in a dance of seductive "things we must know". The web pounds home the latest viral video of some loopy craze woven into a relentless 24/7 news loop. Today's political cross talk is decidedly repetitive, banal and depressing. The world of big data, with over "2.5 quintillion bytes" generated each day, pulls us into a complex marketplace of ideas which make our small moments impossible…
But, as I have written so many times before, all we have are moments... I beg you to pay attention to each moment, and not let them slip into distraction and postponement. Whatever things you have put aside, pull them back to the forefront and do them. Whether it be, experiencing, surrendering, letting go, or simply taking the time to wonder and appreciate....do them now, because out here Shadows abound and you may never know when you will meet the one coming Next.
A final thought from a wise and decent man:
Over the years of writing these newsletters, I persist in urging you to "discover the prose and poetry of your life" so you can pay attention to what you are doing, and what, awash in the energy of doing, you are becoming.
I am so aware of the importance of each moment I have now. You shouldn't have to discover a terminal illness to remind yourself of a truth that provides context for this roiling year of leading and living: our lives contain both prose and poetry. It's time to pay attention to our simple daily rituals and patterns; the stuff that keeps us fed, folding laundry, watering the plants and washing our cars, the Prose of living. But it's also important to rediscover, perhaps for the first time, the Poetry of our lives, the simple joys and small events with our children, our family, our friends, and the small silences of each day that remind us of the precious moments we share together. And experience ourselves…
A recent Wall Street Journal offered a lovely story on Oxford, Mississippi…(and) reminded me of my first trip to Oxford, Mississippi, 52 years ago when I was writing a thesis on William Faulkner. While on campus this year, I walked the grounds of his nearby home again, and was reminded of Faulkner's pull on my younger self, trying then to understand the mystery and darkness of his cypress laden images of the South's "storm and fury". I hadn't really experienced either by then, but I knew I could learn so much from him. And, I did.
Somewhere, I learned to push into places I don't understand and stay there long enough, under the heavy leaves of accumulated wisdom, to discover a path to deeper understanding. Or, the courage to stay longer until I was ready to step back into my Next.
Autumn invites those personal inventories and the poetry that can provoke in us. Back in Oxford all those years ago, I wrote: "Teach me fall/as you cast your leaves/for one last holiday/ not to mourn for my summers gone/in the Autumn of my years/ as chill winds blow your wealth away."
It's not too late. Rake and listen. Read poetry, and sink into the images, the sounds, the silences between the lines. Listen to the "poetry" that you discover between the leaves in your feelings, in the quiet of simple work, and in the delight of actually completing a task. Listen to the whispers of lovers and friends in the sudden winds that move memories and leaves around you.
Find the poem that is you.