I realized recently that I haven’t been blogging here, and it’s something I miss. I find writing is therapeutic, helping me to capture the many random thoughts and reflections from the day. So, at least for another season, I’m returning to my writing.
This morning, I was given the news by a friend that a former friend and boss, John Buckley (JB), lost his battle with cancer in July of this year. John was one of two of the best leaders and supervisors I was blessed with at Lilly. He was my boss when I lived in Speke, UK at our manufacturing site. He was the IT leader for European manufacturing. And even though he only spent slivers of time with me during the course of a year, his ability to gather data and insights about my performance – both from others and his direct observations – was a gift. His reviews were inspiring, well written, complete and encouraging. That was one of many lessons I took from my time with John.
I got this next fact wrong earlier today on Facebook, but that’s ok – either version is still a memory that shows the gift of compassion shown to me while working in the presence of John Buckley. I was working in Ireland on a project – my boss would have been in the US (Steve…I forget his last name now). While I was on site for 6 weeks, a close friend of mine, Phil Carey, lost his battle with cancer. He was also HIV+, and showed the high school kids he taught – and the adults in around his life – how to live gracefully with HIV/AIDS in the early 90’s, when there was a lot more shame and secrecy to this disease. Without missing a beat, Steve and John (the site IT leader at the time) approved my request to fly home early to attend Phil’s funeral, even though this was not a family affair. So even though it cost Lilly some money and some “lost time” for the project, they both knew that sometimes, experiencing life and grieving with friends is more important than a company’s bottom line. For that gift, I’m eternally grateful. I’ll never forget going on site late at night to get my work affairs, so I could fly out the next morning. The site security guard drove me in the van back to IEx – the building where our project team was living and breathing. I don’t recall the specifics of the conversation, but I remember being able to share my story of Phil and my flight home, and felt loved and supported.
Back in the US, the Northernaires Gospel Choir from North Central High School sang at Phil’s memorial, as he was their first director. There was not a dry eye in the house. To this day, I still go to see the choir perform annually – and each time, I remember Phil, and the gift of his life and legacy. And now, I know that Phil and John are smiling down on me and others from Heaven, along with my mom, Scott Collins, Grey Wyman, my grandfather and grandmother Fuqua, my grandfather Schneider and other Saints — all having been accepted into Heaven because there is a “broad way” to life eternal. And that experience of flying home “without hesitation” shaped how I would lead throughout my career, never hesitating to put people’s lives and joys and losses before the company bottom line.
When my mom passed away, and my then boss’ first question to me (that I remember) was “are you willing to work from NJ remotely a couple of days this week, because our staffing levels are really low.” I took the higher ground at the time in my immediate grief and simply said, “No.” I wish he had a John Buckley and Steve Schmitt (I remembered!) in his career to show by example a better, more humane way to lead.
My mind’s synapses are firing almost too much to be still and quiet.
- I want to write about my experience first seeing Griffin and Phoenix – which I’m watching tonight, remembering John and others who live with cancer.
- I want to write about how Phil’s life of graceful openness inspires me to live by example, letting people know that at the age of 44, I also became someone who lives with HIV+ – but that through shameless transparency, I hope to educate and help remove the shame and stigma that some 25 years later still hovers above the HIV/AIDS community.
- I want to write about a recent conversation I had remembering Chris Gonzalez and his partner Jeff, who shaped the local gay community with their leadership at IYG.
- I want to write about my friends Alan and Paul, who returned to Indianapolis with an adopted girl — a princess living with two queens — and who are once again friends in my circle of life.
- I want to write about the gift of recovery I have that the first people I call now after my blood results each 6 months are my parents and my family — something that 7 years ago, I would probably have never been able to share with my family.
- I want to write about my experience last week going to prison, and how I learned yet again the importance of “seeing you.”
- I want to write about the friend Joe who helped me expand my job title to “Community Connector & Reflector.”
- I want to write about how I called Ed Nichols this morning, pushing back my pride, to leave him a teary voicemail that Maria had shared the news of John Buckley’s passing.
- I want to write about how I’m laying on my couch – that I bought with Jerry, deep enough for “two mens” to cuddle with a dog and watch TV – thinking of that shopping experience, watching this movie now and crying with joy and grief and life experience.
- I want to write about my friend Chris Countryman, who taught me how to look at feelings differently, that I wouldn’t cry so hard that I’d explode, that I could and should grieve, and that life is about living with the mind and heart in unison, not separated.
But for now, I’ll put my pen down and go watch Griffin and Phoenix. Because I need to feel this wave of grief, and loss, and love anew, and loneliness and deep joy, and gratitude.
Just for today, I’m high on life – brimming with hope – knowing that if I were to die today, my life would be complete – I have made a difference – and people would come to my funeral…three things I have not always believed.
Thank you for letting me share the wandering thoughts of a creative mind.