ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷 (pjammer) wrote,
ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷

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TEDx and Death

To the public, TEDx Berkeley was a roaring success: 700 attendees, almost a thousand people on the waitlist, over 157,000 unique pageviews on our streaming channel (according to our streaming partner Justin.TV) and nearly unanimous praise across blogs and twitter channels during and after the event.

For those of us on the executive committee, we knew the 100-hour weeks that went into planning, delivering and executing the event and we knew the thousand near-disasters we fortuitously avoided. It was, in the words of my technical director, Rocky Mullin "Amazing events, produced, staffed and run entirely volunteers, are internally like a sausage factory. And no one ever wants to see the sausage being made. The work is hard and mostly thankless, resources are thin to non-existent."

As the second-in-command of TEDxBerkeley and all its attendant responsibilities, the weight that fell heavily on my shoulders doubled quite suddenly on March 11th 2010, when the one person I entrusted in my life with my secrets and hopes, the one person I relied on for wise counsel - my therapist - died. Three weeks prior to the most high-profile event of my life, and my lifeline was abruptly cut, with no recourse or explanation.

My first thought was for the team - and the first email I composed after I heard the news was to the TEDxBerkeley executive committee, informing them that my availability may be compromised in the following weeks; the news of Maggie's death was fresh to me and I was uncertain how I was going to process my loss in the days and weeks to come.

Turned out - I was able to throw myself into work double-time and in spite of everything, pull it together on the strength of others on the executive committee.

Close friends who knew of this loss in the following days and extended many kind offers of support in various forms and they were very much appreciated. I've come to deepen my understanding of friendships during this difficult time, and it has taught me a great deal about how to better cherish the relationships that *aren't* work-related.

On May 22, 2010, friends and family said goodbye to Maggie Clough, MFT at the Community Presbytarian Church in Danville, CA.

Below are the recorded comments of my address:

I wanted to tell you about a letter I wrote eight weeks ago, that never reached its destination.
But I am getting ahead of myself.

Garrison Keillor once said, in reference to memorial services - that it's the one occasion where everyone in your life gathers together to say nice things about you - and the tragedy is, you JUST MISSED IT by a few days or weeks.

Like some of you here, I knew Maggie as her client. And in the time I've come to know her, Maggie was my confidant and advisor - someone I entrusted with my hopes and my secrets - my triumphs and my numerous sins.

And even though we had the asymmetrical relationship that all client/therapists have, she was always generous in sharing relevant elements of her own life; I knew the deep love she had for her son, his wife and her grandchildren; she spoke fondly of them in moments when our conversation turned to the topic of how to forge healthy family relationships. She had a quiet, wise spirit that was particularly comforting to wounded souls, and it was precisely what I needed when I first stepped foot in her office.

When I first met Maggie, it was in one of the lowest periods of my life - recently jobless, and deep into a well of depression from which I felt there was no exit. I remember our early sessions in which she'd ask me: "How was your week? What did you do?"

And I would literally pause, stare into space and say "Well, I saw you last week … and … uh … well, here I am now."

From that low point, we built upon small victories - attempts (some successful, some not) to establish one healthy habit at a time, until, by the time Maggie and I had what would end up being our final session, I was serving as President of my University's Alumni Association, and had just received news I was invited to be curator of TEDx, one of the of the most high-profile conferences in the San Francisco Bay Area.

My role with my university's Alumni Association was the focus of much of our most recent sessions, and those conversations brought to surface Maggie's own relationship with her alma mater, Stanford University. She recounted with great amusement Stanford's assumption that all alumni of her age would be established, well-heeled high-rollers, as evidenced by the aggressive advertising splashed across her alumni newsletter showcasing $10,000 vacations to exotic destinations.

"Clearly," Maggie said once with a laugh "they've got me confused with someone else! I'm trying to figure out how to save up money to attend a $700 Continuing Education class to maintain my MFT license, and they're trying to sell me scuba diving cruises in the Bahamas!"

And even though it was clear Maggie could have followed her fellow Stanford graduates into similar careers, she chose a different, less-lucrative path into a life of service. I'd like to think that, in the end, she out-earned her peers in many other ways, in many other coins.

She certainly did so with me.

When my life became a hectic whirlwind of meetings that interfered with our regular Thursday sessions, I recalled how graciously flexible Maggie was opening her calendar to accommodate my constant rescheduling. And every time she and I rescheduled, my cell phone's calendaring program asked me: "Delete just this appointment, or All Future Thursday Appointments?" to which I have to click "no. Just this appointment."

Every Thursday since, I've been getting the alert/reminder for my appointment with Maggie. When I clicked to cancel it, it asked me "Delete just this appointment, or All Future Appointments?"

I couldn't bear to do it.

I think I am ready to do so today. In fact, if you'll bear with me for a moment, let me do it right now.


When Maggie's office first contacted me about her hospitalization, they were intentionally vague about her condition due to medical privacy issues (and understandably so). I was told she was in the hospital and would be expected to be back in six to eight weeks; they had every reason to be that would be true. When I heard that news, I immediately stopped by the drugstore next to Maggie's office to buy a "Get Well" card and dashed off a handwritten letter, thanking her for being in my life, telling her how much her advice has meant to me - and apologizing for my bad habit of ignoring a lot of it. "But!" I added cheekily in my note "I know I'm not the only stubborn, advice-ignoring client of yours!"

Such was the nature of our relationship. And it was just the sort of jest I envisioned would bring a smile to her face on the hospital bed as she recovered from whatever it was that felled her.

Of course, as you all know - she never awoke since being hospitalized.

Those jovial words never reached her. And now, now they stand frozen in time forever.

I've thought a lot about that letter in the ensuing days.

To paraphrase my favorite U.S. President, I sometimes wonder about the shyness in which those of us who are blessed with advisors and close family express our gratitude for their presence in our lives. This reluctance to acknowledge how much their support and love help ease the sufferings of our imperfect world seem so tragic in moments like this, when we realize just how much unspoken thanks we owe to those around us.

Well let us be shy no longer. Let us speak up to those who love and comfort us while they still have ears to hear, and let them know how their presence makes a difference in our lives. For those who can think of someone right now who you realize is owed a note of gratitude - I have purchased one hundred stamped "thank you" cards which I have right here; you are welcome to take one at the end of this service.

My letter of thanks to Maggie went out too late - but odds are good the letter you mail today will reach its recipient.

It may be strange to think of it, but there will come a day when everyone in this room will have a ceremony, much like this one, where OUR friends and family will gather to say nice things about us that WE will just miss by days or weeks. Let OUR ceremonies not be filled with regret of unspoken gratitude and unfulfilled promises; let us do what we can to make sure that our own memorial services would be a celebration of a life well-lived, and well-loved with no regrets.

I believe this is the best way to honor Maggie's memory; I believe if she were here today, it would be something she'd heartily endorse.

Thank you.


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