Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I am a broken man.

Me and my Dad
I'll never forget the first time (and only time to date) I rode in a police car. I was six years old, and it was a cool autumn Sunday night. As I walked out of my church's weekly gathering for kids, I was greeted by Dave, a close family friend who was also a sheriff's deputy. Dave told me my parents weren't able to pick me up, so he would be giving me a ride over to my friend Gregg's house to spend the night. It seemed like an odd scenario, but somehow Dave's familiar and soothing smile resting underneath his bristly Tom Selleck mustache told me everything was going to be alright. I hopped in the front seat (it was okay for 6-year-olds to ride shotgun then) and imagined I was Dave's partner, off to help him apprehend the dangerous criminals of Williamsburg. I asked him if I could turn on the siren and flashing lights; he nodded and showed me where the switch was. I saw him smile at the sight of pure joy on my face, but I could see he was holding something back. He already knew what I wouldn't find out until the following day - my dad was lying in a hospital bed, dead from a heart attack at age 32.

I've always known I wouldn't live to see 30. That firmly held belief at the back of my mind has been the longest-standing effect of my father's death. Sure, he had lived to 32, but he also finished the New York Marathon the previous year. The chances of me finishing a marathon are about as good as the Pirates winning the pennant, so I knocked off two years (I'm quite the armchair actuary). While such an outlook on life may seem morose, I never thought so. To me, it was just a fact to be dealt with, and I dealt with it by packing as much life as I possibly could into an abbreviated lifespan. I first piloted a plane at age 14, and had soloed one by 15. I enrolled in my first college math course at age 16, and by 17 I was studying full-time at the university, sacrificing the fun that accompanies high school senioritis. I was engaged by age 19, and by 21, I had graduated from university, gotten married, went on a honeymoon, moved 600 miles away from home, started my career, and purchased my first house (5 of those 6 events all occurred within a period of 6 weeks). I travel to new, exciting places as often as possible, I have a life insurance policy 5 times the size the average for my age so my wife won't have to worry, and I share everything I own with my friends because I'm keenly aware my stuff has an ever-approaching expiration date.

Getting married, exactly one month after turning 21
My acute awareness of my mortality never seems to dissipate because every day I am reminded of how I share my father's thorn in my side: I am an admitted glutton. The glorious aroma of juicy hamburger meat combined with sizzling bacon and thick cuts of cheddar cheese, accompanied by a heap of fried potatoes, is intoxicating to me. With popular shows such as Man vs. Food and The Biggest Loser, we've made a spectacle of overeating in this country, but I have nothing but empathy for obese people. It's a nasty addiction, and it takes incredible willpower to overcome it. I begin each day with utter depression when I see the girth of my belly in the mirror, then somehow can't manage to stop my car when it steers itself into Chick-fil-a for a healthy breakfast of fried chicken - fully aware of the latter causing the former. Last week I went to Wendy's with some friends, and after scarfing down a double cheeseburger and fries (with a Diet Coke, of course), I had to ask them to physically remove me from the restaurant because I was still hungry and desperately wanted to go back to the counter to order a baconator. Sure, I'm overweight, but it's only by the grace of God that I'm not 400 pounds (yet). As I constantly struggle with and frequently succumb to this intense desire to consume disgusting amounts of the kind of food Michelle Obama warns us about, I can't forget my looming pre-30 death sentence.

Me in my natural habitat
Perhaps this twisted worldview of fast living is most pronounced in my career. When it became clear my first employer out of college valued years of service above performance when it came to promotions, I resigned immediately. Once I began working in more of a meritocracy environment, I incessantly sought new ways to add value to the company, never paying any mind to what my actual job description was, which led to a slew of promotions and new opportunities. Surprisingly, this progression wasn't driven by greed or blind ambition, but rather my desire to pack a full career into the 9 years I'd have after university. Now I find myself responsible for business development across 2 continents - not a bad gig for a 27 year old. My favorite part of the job is mergers and acquisitions, and being able to manage an acquisition from valuation to integration over the past 10 months has been the greatest experience of my career.

Anything Chrysler touches turns to crap
M&A is one of the strangest concepts in business, and economic history is filled with epic acquisition fails (Daimler-Benz and Chrysler, AOL and Time Warner...need I continue?). Imagine a courtship where one party woos the other, explaining how they can't live without the other and how they're willing to pay an enormous dowry just to be together forever. Then, when it's time for the wedding, the party paying the dowry becomes completely dominant, explaining to the other how everything about them is better, and how their new spouse must conform to their standard in every way - from the color of their shoes to the type of paper they use. It sounds like a recipe for a tumultuous marriage, but this is how most acquisitions work. It's my job to navigate these stormy waters without ending up shipwrecked and bankrupt.

Somehow, Chris is making it all a little easier. As the CFO & COO all-in-one at the company we’re acquiring, he’s run a damn good business. Yet he’s been a team player from the start, acknowledging the great potential of what our companies can only achieve if we are combined. I’ve been astounded by his willingness to sacrifice his autonomy, his title, and his position atop the food chain, all for the good of the business. He’s always quick to provide any needed information and constantly offers up fresh ideas for success. We ensured he would stay on after the deal was finalized because we know with him at the helm, our little marriage is bound for greatness, standing in stark contrast to all of the acquisition failures of the past.
Sharing laughs on the day we signed the acquisition

However, what makes Chris truly unique is his ability to form friendships. He took a genuine interest in me on a personal level from the beginning, and we became fast friends. Chris always has a way of making integration meetings less stressful and more enjoyable by bringing up our shared love of motoring and lightening the mood with his quick wit. We laugh heartily over dinners, even debating the nuances of African Cameroon versus Connecticut Shade cigar wrappers. He noticed I always wore french cuff shirts, and knows of my affinity for firearms, so one day upon my arrival at the office, he handed me a gift: cufflinks made from genuine .40 cal casings. His thoughtfulness bowled me over, and I’m still trying to figure out how to thank him properly.

Last night I received a tragic call - Chris had died, suffering a massive heart attack at a very young age. I spent all of last night and most of today trying to wrap my head around it, to no avail. I'm trying to pick up the pieces of our business and figure out what it means to be a leader in this kind of situation, but I have no answers. I miss my friend. I wish I could pull an anecdote from the Bible to make everything feel better, but I can't.

I went to the gym today for the first time in a long time, thinking that if I just tried a little harder, perhaps I'd be able to thwart the disease that took the lives of my father and my friend. Yet as I lifted weights until my skin turned as red as a Maine lobster and swam laps until I wheezed like an 80 year-old smoker, I couldn't help but think my efforts were in vain. I realized my lust for greasy foods and my irrational desire to cram 70 years of life into 30 were merely symptoms of a greater problem - I am a broken man living in a fallen world. I may eventually obtain a body figure I can be proud of, and maybe I'll even manage to cross everything off my bucket list before the undertaker shows up at my door, but I don't think there's anything I can do to actually save myself.
Bebo Norman

My mind keeps going to a line from a song written by Bebo Norman following the death of one his friends: "'Cause 'it was not your time' that's a useless line; a fallen world took your life." Whether Chris died yesterday or 30 years from now, it would've caused the same amount of pain for his loved ones. It's not an issue of timing, it's an issue of living in a fallen world that isn't as it was meant to be. Creation is beautiful and good, but it has run amok and is in decay. And there's nothing I can do to stop it.

Tonight, I cling to the hope that this is temporary. I long for the day when things are returned to the way they're meant to be. Tonight, my soul cries out for restoration.

What I'm Listening to During This Post:


  1. I am so sorry for your loss. I know that nothing will ease the pain that at this time, and the ache of Chris's death will be part of your life forever even when it does lessen. My prayers are with you.

    At a time in my life when I lost the most important person in the world to me, I eventually found comfort in two biblical passages: The healing of the bleeding woman and Jairus's daughter in Mark 5, because although Jesus was interrupted and showed up late, resurrection happened. In retrospect, I saw a promise that Jesus is with us at all points on that journey--in the asking (Jairus), the interrupting (the bleeding woman), and new life (Jairus's daughter).

    The other passage is the healing of the paralytic in John 5. In this passage, when Jesus asks the paralytic if he wants to be well, what I find is a promise that Jesus accepts us where we are and promises to abide with us until we are ready for his healing.

    Whether it is in these passages or others, I pray our God of comfort, hope, and resurrection meets you tonight.

  2. Jay...
    I'm sorry for the pain, my young friend. That same pain seems to also be the cry for a larger gospel which includes restoration. THAT seems to be how God can work in ALL things (good and bad) for those who are in Jesus.

    David had such a tumultuous, wear-it-on-your-sleeve relationship with the God of a broken creation. He recognized how a cursed life sucks (weeping may remain for a night), but he kept on living in that same brokenness because of restoration (but joy comes in the morning). Psalm 30:5.

    I see you trying and struggling to live that out as a true ragamuffin in the shadows of those like Brennan Manning.

    May your pain and struggle only propel you to telling a greater story better and more often.

    blessings & time for another lunch...

  3. First of all, enough with the amateur actuarial projections. I worked out your personal projections and you're looking at a solid 52-58 more years.

    I'm sorry to hear you have lost someone so close to you. God will use this, as he did the tragic loss of your dad, to make you a more finely tuned instrument for the Gospel. I'll be praying for you.