In Sickness and In Health: What Character Means to Me
It has been said that suffering hardship builds character. For most of my life, that statement didn't mean much to me. I lived a semi-charmed life, for the most part, and considered myself a person of strong character. One can’t manufacture hardship, I thought, and I am still a good person with strong beliefs and values.
This past August, I lost my father after a long and difficult fight with Parkinson’s Disease. His character was certainly stress-tested in the decade before his death. I'm not sure I could articulate it at the time, but I do think that he softened as his illness progressed; he was a much better listener because his larger than life personality was no longer filling the room. But I don't think my father would ever say that the man he was in sickness was the man he aspired to be. His illness didn’t define him--or his character.
Ah, but I learned a lot about myself during my father’s illness and subsequent death. I learned that when the chips are down, I wasn’t the person I thought I was. On the bright side, I was responsible, organized and task-oriented. Nothing fell through the cracks. I made things happen. I got things done. But I was also filled with trepidation and sometimes impatience. I was easily uncomfortable. Let’s just say that there were kinks in the armor that my hardships had unearthed.
My older brothers, who have weathered this storm by my side, constantly remind me that no one is perfect and that one picks up where another leaves off. They certainly did that for me. But it turns out, when I dug deeper, I did it for them too. When they were weary, I kept the ball rolling. They relied on me and were grateful for what I offered them. More importantly, they didn’t begrudge me for what I couldn’t deliver.
We are all inherently flawed human beings. Even my father, who I’ve practically immortalized in the months since his passing, wasn’t perfect. But I’ve learned in the last few months that character is about what you DO bring to the table when you are tested, and not what you don’t.
Working with children through this challenging time has been a gift. On Zoom or in person, they bring levity to my day. I am constantly inspired by the optimistic way they see the world--so full of hope and wonder. While their character may still be in development, I have faith in who they are and who they will turn out to be.