I graduated from with my MSW in December of 1987 (stop guessing my age and pay attention) and started my first job a few months later. With my first paycheck I bought the mug that you see in the picture above and it has been with me in my office at my first job and at every job since then. It is one of the first things I bring with me to each new position and it makes the office I am assigned to feel like “my office.” The keychain was given to be by Dr. Suzan Rayner – she was the medical director at the first rehab hospital that I was asked to lead. At the time, although I had many years of management experience, I was new to rehabilitation and this keychain – which held my work keys at that hospital – and every position since, came to symbolize for me the confidence that Dr. Rayner had in me as a leader and the trust that she placed in me to be a partner with her in leading that rehabilitation team.
I have been very fortunate that the coffee mug has never been broken in spite of all the many places I have taken it and the keychain is still with me – though the keys it carries and the doors they open have changed many times.
I am not so superstitious to believe that these items are somehow endowed with special powers – or that I would lose my ability to be a leader without them – but they do give me comfort. I sometimes will catch myself putting my hand in my pocket and holding on to the key chain when I am rounding through the hospital and talking to staff, patients and families. Doing this reminds me of a wonderful mentor and teacher and all of the experiences we shared.
As I drive through the city and see the piles of debris sitting out on the lawns of the homes across our community I hear my mother saying, “It’s just stuff – the important thing is that you are safe” and while I know she is right, I also know that those piles are filled with objects that hold special meaning and memories for the people that owned them.
I’ll end with a story because I think that no matter how old you get stories are always good for the soul:
There was a group of college roommates that became very close friends. One of them, Beth, was going through a particularly difficult personal time decided and one day decided to settle into her favorite comfortable chair, light a candle, read her favorite poem and meditate a bit. Afterwards she felt a lot better. When she told her roommates about it a new tradition was born; any time one of them had a problem they would tell each other to go sit in that special comfy chair, light the same candle, and read Beth’s poem and somehow, each time, it made them feel a little better.
After graduation, the friends all moved to different cities and one day Beth got a call from Liz who was very upset about a problem she was facing. Feeling a little helpless because Liz was so far away she decided to mail her the candle and the poem and a note that said, “The chair was too big to fit into the box but I hope the candle and poem are enough.” A few days later Liz called to say thanks, the poem and candle had helped – even without the chair.
A couple of years later Sharon, the last of their group, was going through a rough patch and emailed her friends for advice. Liz decided to send her the candle with a note saying, “Beth still has the chair (can you believe that), I am going to keep the candle (even though the wax is long gone and it is just an empty glass container now) but I am sending the poem and hope it will be enough to help.” When Sharon opened the package she smiled as she remembered all of the drama they went through during college and all of the tears they shed over boyfriends, exams and other things and how their “magic ritual” always seemed to make them feel better. Even though she didn’t have the chair or the candle re-reading Beth’s poem made her feel lucky for having such good friends and brought back memories of better times and it actually was enough to help her feel a little better. And now, she even had her own piece of the “magic potion” just in case something came up in the future.
The years passed and one day Sharon got a call from her daughter who was now in college. When Sharon asked her daughter how things were going, Emily replied that she had been having a rough week; stressing over a class and a fight she had with a friend when she remembered the silly story her mom had told her over and over again of her friends and their “magic chair, candle and poem” and how when they were in college they used to believe in its special powers to solve problems. Emily said that remembering this story made her laugh and realize things were going to be fine and she calmed down and things were started to get a little better now. Emily added that afterwards she had told her friends about how silly her mom and her friends were in college with their “tradition” and now – whenever she or friends are feeling down or stressed about something – they have started texting each other, “Have you tried lighting a candle” to make each other laugh until they can talk in person and it always seems to make them feel just a little bit better.
For Beth, Liz and Sharon the chair, candle and poem were never as important or comforting as their friendship and caring for each other; and now – even the story of their friendship – is bringing comfort to Emily and a new generation of friends. Hopefully, as you move along the road to recovery in your own personal way – you will find ways to connect with friends, tell the stories of the things that you lost and why they were important so that you can keep the memory alive and fresh and hopefully that will be enough to help you feel just a little bit better.