Last weekend I took my family down to my brother’s to help out with a fall project. His house is on property in the suburbs of Chicago that in the ’40’s and ’50’s was the J.C. Penney Christmas tree farm. Since that time, it’s grown mostly wild, so he has quite a forest. This year, more trees than normal died, and so he had an arborist come in to take them out. The trees were felled, cut into appropriate sized blocks, and left where they lay. We wanted to help him move and split the wood. We had a beautiful weekend outside, and the work was a good reason to be active, also.
Tuesday the 23rd was my youngest daughter’s birthday. She turned four, and we had cake and presents for her. Her little brother didn’t quite get that he wasn’t going to be getting presents, too. In a pinch, we wrapped some new clothes so that he had something to open, also. Then, everybody was happy. In contrast to this joy, by coincidence the 23rd was also the first anniversary of the death of one of my closest friends. I’ve been a bit moody recently, because of this. The joy of my daughter’s birthday party was in welcome opposition to some of the grief that I’ve been feeling, lately.
I like to believe that in life we’re given both good and bad in equal measure. Sometimes, these things are even wrapped in the same package. That an important birthday is on the same day as the anniversary of a significant death is a good example of this. Rarely are we given such opportunities to examine life so fully. While it wasn’t a gift that I expected or packaged the way that I wanted it, my friend’s death last October also gave me the gift of more time with his father Bob, who died last fall as well. Bob was a significant mentor for me; it’s not an exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be who I am today without his influence.
One of the things that Bob taught me was how to wield an axe. He even gave me a double-bit axe that I still have, and it sits here in my office here at Pemba Base. It’s more appropriate for cleaning or felling trees than it is for splitting wood, so as it turns out I didn’t use it at my brother’s. My brother has a good splitting axe and a splitting maul that I used instead. In the heft and release of these tools, I felt Bob’s presence in my hands, and in the wood as it yielded, also.
Stephen Covey says that there’s a time to sharpen the saw, and there’s a time to cut wood. In life – and yes, in business – we need to prepare for action as much as we need to act. Whether you pick up a tool to use it or to maintain it you’re lifting the tool for a good reason. We don’t always get the gifts we want, nor are they always packaged in the way that we expect them. Joy and grief are good complements to one another, as it turns out. More importantly, we can’t experience one without the other, and this is as it should be.