I've been thinking a lot about my Uncle David recently. About the hours of conversation we would have over topics ranging from college football and basketball to politics and history. We'd talk long hours on my off duty days from the military, we'd laugh and make plans to play cards. He passed while I was deployed overseas, but I have never forgotten the ease of those conversations, the joy they brought and the insight they yielded. There was an ease to those talks, an excitement to hearing the phone ring and not knowing what was coming, but knowing it was worth it. People all have an energy about them, a way they carry themselves. Some inspire joy, others anxiety, but they are all unique. Still, every once in a while we can feel the spirit of someone else when we converse. Imagine my surprise and joy at feeling that shadow of my Uncle David while connecting to Peter Arnstein.
Pete met me for the first time when I presented at 1 Million Cups - Charleston. It was his first time at the event. He loved the idea and passionately wrote me about wanting to be a part of it. I was more than happy to help set up this time to meet, excited as it came closer. There is a gentle focus in his eyes, sharp and present, but calming at the same time. When you talk to Pete, you are the most important person in the room, the one right across from him. He speaks with enthusiasm, I find myself getting more animated as we talk, and he knows how to tell a story. There are so many subjects that fascinate him, and you will probably bring one up when you talk to him. We talked about my time in the military, about training, about relationships and stories from every corner of our respective paths. Stories are the greatest currency we have with one another, a barter of sights, sounds, sensations and memory. A gift of wisdom and time, a vision from another road. There are many between Pete and I, traded freely over coffee in paper cups, across a wire frame table.
Pete is an executive coach, you can see his enthusiasm for it when he talks about it, but to think that the coaching is the passion with him would be to miss something greater. He loves people. Truly, he values people. When he shows up he tells me that he comes bearing gifts, which is definitely a first for me on this project. These aren't just any gifts though, they represent pieces of me he has picked up on, held onto and remembered. Remembrance is one of the best ways to show how much we value a person, so when he produces a vinyl record for Guys and Dolls Original Cast (a reflection of my background in the theatre) and a copy of Man's Search For Meaning (to guide me on my journey) I feel valued.
Those gifts are not the only ones though, and probably not the greatest. As we talk, we wander over topics like depression and suicide. When I tell him my history, he tells me he is sorry. It is a heartfelt apology, a sincere expression of regret for the way I have felt in life and a wish to help. It is sincere. It is incredible. Pete and I share knowledge of people lost, of struggles. We are open. We are vulnerable, and neither of us is afraid. Pete and I are two old friends sitting down for coffee on a sunny morning in Charleston, we just didn't know it until we sat at the table and started chatting.
For Pete and I, the great tragedy is how we all pretend to be perfect, to be strong and indomitable. The greatest trials in life are not tests of strength or skill. They are not wars won by intelligence, wit, a way with words or beauty. The greatest tests you will ever face will ask one simple question; how much can you take? The secret is you don't have to do it alone. Be vulnerable, take an interest in others, look at them like Pete looks at you. Let them know how much they matter, and back it up with your actions.
At times when I thought the world would swallow me up, my Uncle David could remind me how much I mattered. I felt some of that spirit as I talked to Pete, as we shared our laughs and our cries. Old friends, we just didn't know it yet.
Favorite Dinosaur: Indominus Rex (the hybrid from Jurassic World. I never said they had to be real.)
Why: "It was scary as shit."