I cannot say enough about how much I am enjoying the book “Leadership” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Recently, I read about a period of defining moments in the life of Theodore Roosevelt. Twelve hours! That is the amount of time that passed between the death of Roosevelt’s wife and mother. I cannot even imagine the grief that consumed Roosevelt’s heart and mind. In one day, his whole world had turned upside down. Or, as he shared with a friend, “the light of my world has gone out.”
Roosevelt retreated to the Badlands, in South Dakota. Not wanting to talk about or face the fullness of the trauma he had experienced, he set out to challenge his mind, body, and soul, through the intensity of life in the west and the occupation of cattle-ranging. And in the midst of arduous work, something absolutely remarkable happened during the course of his two year hiatus. Goodwin writes:
“So began a sojourn on the western frontier he would come to regard as the most important educational asset of his entire life. But by far the greatest and most enduring project of these months and years of reaction to the trauma he had experienced was the work of his own healing, growth, and self transformation.
He was no longer apparently available for anything. He had gone away, and it seemed like a candle light that had been snuffed out. Mistaken for some luminary which was ever to be the guide.
But Theodore Roosevelt was neither a snuffed candle nor had he altogether abandon politics. He had retreated west..(taken on) A strenuous challenge where he might confront his deadened heart & fear of intimacy and somehow renew confidence in himself and in a future where he might become hey genuine luminary, guide, and leader.”
I almost fell off my seat when I read that last paragraph! I said outloud, “Wow! Me, too!” About 6 years ago, I intentionally sought geographical distance from the loss of my late wife. I needed space and fewer reminders of places “we” had gone. When I arrived in Western Pennsylvania, I found one experience after the next that challenged my mind, body, and soul. And like Roosevelt, “the greatest and most enduring project of these months and years of reaction to the trauma he [I] had experienced was the work of his [my] own healing growth and self transformation” (brackets added).
Roosevelt would later say that had he not struggled and ultimately experienced healing out west, he would have never become President of the United States. I would not be where I am today had I not experienced all that I have the past six years. And there is still so much more for me to experience and reflect upon in the years to come.
Friends, let’s not shun those months and years we are “out west”, seemingly toiling away on occupations and projects that seem to have no apparent long-term value. Like Moses, another future leader sent “out west”, following tragedy, let’s embrace our wilderness, confront the pains of our past, and experience “our own healing, growth, and self transformation.”
I have returned from “the west” and I am beyond excited about what lies ahead!
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20, ESV)