Thursday, July 27, 2017. My day is bookended by lucky luxury and painful perspective. I started the day with a skip in my step; entering a Starbucks in Bel Air, I order my usual – A tall Americano with a little room for my non-fat milk – low calorie, high price. Waiting for the barista to prepare my drink for the road, I pick up the Los Angeles Times, and read about a 16-year-old who was just released from her ISIS-rapist-captors in Mosul after three years of terrifying personal and psychological assault. She was 13 when they captured her – the age of my oldest child. A gulp of guilt runs down my throat. Conflicting thoughts run through my mind. I am so blessed – to live in Los Angeles, to love my life. What is my responsibility to this young woman and to many like her who aren’t as lucky?
I feel my eyes looking downwards and my head lowered in shame and sorrow, only to see a beautiful baby in a carrier at his mother’s feet. Life, light, hope and optimism halt my descent into anguish. Feeling helpless and sad won’t do – I am here and now – not ignoring, but grateful for what I have and where I am – and restored with my mission to help people live fulfilled and happy lives.
I drive to facilitate a communication training for an executive team in downtown and bring all of my passion and purpose with me. Selling my simple truth—we can all elevate our experiences and exchanges with family, friends and colleagues by choosing connection over conflict—I show the team how to find common ground and establish mutual respect.
I leave the training with hugs, and with sincere and grateful tears from amazing people…and head to the airport to catch my flight to Seattle…once again with lightheartedness and a levity that comes from deep appreciation for the work I get to do and the lives I’m blessed to touch. “Thank you, thank you” is the prayer of abundance in my heart and on my lips – that I value impact over income and that the fulfillment and growth I inspire in others contributes to my own success and satisfaction.
I sit on the plane next to a gentleman whose son works for Microsoft. He asks me for my business card. My meeting tomorrow morning is with media managers, and lawyers who work with big firms representing major clients. Immense gratitude overtakes me – I am living a life that is beyond my childhood dreams. I check into the magnificent Fairmont Hotel and it all feels like a scripted movie scene…until a harsher reality interrupts once again. I’m sitting at the hotel lounge, drinking my glass of expensive wine and listening to a jazz trio play a combination of upbeat and mournful tunes – they’re playing out the conflict of emotions and thoughts that are running through my heart and mind. Noticing that I’m alone and not on my phone, the server hands me a copy of the Seattle Times. I’m reading about OJ Simpson’s parole and race relations in America just as a middle-aged African-American man in a worn tracksuit looks over my shoulder. He asks me what my wine is called and how much it costs. He takes a seat by the jazz trio and scrolls down the menu; walks over to me and asks me to point out the sauvignon blanc I ordered. The server who outdoes himself for me ignores the shanty man’s beckoning three times before he pauses inattentively. The man points to the drink. He can’t pronounce it. He can’t afford it.
Do I offer to buy it for him? Is that treating him with kindness or hurting his dignity? I ponder my role and responsibility for a bit too long because he gets up and leaves. Between my morning coffee in Bel Air and my evening wine in Seattle, Between the Los Angeles Times and the Seattle Times, between a teenager in Iraq and a black man in America, between gratitude and guilt, I take a deep, strained breath. Tomorrow I meet with my new clients – individuals I get to impact with positive intention. One person at a time, one day at a time, I commit myself to mix the guilt and gratitude in order to give.
Lee Broekman is a communication coach and trainer. Her company Organic Communication, brings interactive, never boring, always edifying presentations and programs — focused on communication, collaboration and innovation — to your firm or organization.