It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. Aristotle
Dedicated to Michael T. Heston – Brigadier General, U.S. Army, my lifelong friend since we were kids on that campus by the ocean, connected through all the years in between and now both, by some crazy mix of luck and meant to be, living as neighbors back by that same ocean again.
From my house I can see the rooftop of my friend Mike’s house. His family lives here part-time. We live here full-time. There comes a point when you just look at the unmeasurable traversing of a lifetime and really understand that much of what happens over days and years and months is given to us by some Divine timing and energy. All of it. The good. The sad. The stuff that makes us sing. And the things that take us to our knees. We remain connected by a thread and always will.
My friend, the General, is fighting a battle here on the home-front more so than any other he’s known. Deployed three times to Afghanistan to honor our country and to do his job. And now this battle is harder, so much harder. But he keeps the focus. And fights.
While attending Mike’s retirement ceremony in mid July in Vermont, I was overwhelmed with pride on how far-stretching his service to our country rippled. And of just how many people he inspired and connected with, cared about and remembered. The room was filled with his chapters – of course, his wife and two children. His military friends and affiliates. His family – parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.
During the ceremony he received a mahogany shadow box filled with replicas of the medals he had received over the years. Many, I believe, donned on his prestigious uniform that day -medals to recognize each part of his stunning career. A career filled with honor, grit, commitment and perseverance.
A couple of days after Mike’s ceremony I called him to tell him how happy and proud I was to be there. I asked him how he managed it all. All of it. Being away from home so much. Being in unknown lands in extremely challenging and dangerous conditions. And responsible to keep order out of chaos and for the young troops under his watch.
He paused. And simply said “We can get through anything if we just shift the angle of the lens, Lis. Even just a little.” And it was like a bolt of lightning. The angle of the lens. And in the 4 weeks since he said those words I have thought of them every day.
And when I have shared the statement with friends the reactions have all been so similar. One closed her eyes and said “ahhh, yes…” Another got visibly choked up as I must have hit a cord in her I’d never know the nature of. But Mike’s words, through me, helped others. As they always have.
Just shift the angle of the lens.
Not at all easy to do. We can live with a perception of things, a single vision and never try to open the lens or move the lens. Being open to a wider lens shows acceptance. And shows openness to what lies ahead. And it shows that we have within us the ability to conquer way, way more than we ever thought we could. Digging deep it’s all there, everything we need.
Driving back down from northern Vermont I just kept thinking of my friend’s extraordinary career. Many words came to mind. But one kept surfacing above all to capture the essence of the General. A Greek word meaning “divinely inspired gift” — Charisma.
A search of the word charisma yields hundreds of definitions, phrases and quotes. But this one stood out as it captures what I think of as charisma related to my friend.
Charismatic people genuinely and instinctively focus their eyes, ears, and soul on your being, not theirs. They make you laugh, they make you feel heard, they make you feel special or fascinated or safe or interesting….people connect and stay because they are having strong, positive emotions in the presence of someone truly charismatic. Charismatic people: exude joy; inspire confidence; share conviction; are great storytellers and connect empathetically.
As Mike concluded his personal thoughts and reflections of gratitude on that stage in front of family and friends and colleagues he did what he’s always been so very good at doing. He thought of others. And he read to us, captured us, with this beautiful Irish blessing:
May the road rise to meet you,
may the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.