Choosing Optimism

August 20, 2011
     The Des Moines Register

In these turbulent times when markets fail and partisan sniping threatens our national progress, Americans have a choice. Will we build on freedom’s success, or accept decline? Shall we be optimists or pessimists? I discovered my answers while gazing upon a magnificent lake in northern Minnesota.

Dawn’s radiance danced about the placid lake briefly exposing naked steam shafts escaping to a cloud destined for far away fields in need of rain. The warble of a loon fishing nearby could be heard over the hushed rhythm of tiny waves lapping the shoreline of rocks worn smooth over the millennia.

The splendor of this moment was matchless. It can never be replicated, nor dissected. The shimmering gold water is serenely beautiful because the glow of the morning embraced a new growth pine silently swaying in the distance on a hill still soaked in midnight’s dew. One must surrender to the entirety of the scene in order to appreciate the wonder of how its countless pieces come together to inspire.

The same can be said about my brother.

Greg and I were children of the Bicentennial. Too young to remember the turbulent ’60s, we came of age during America’s uncomfortable ’70s and ’80s when nuclear war, communists and other threats were generally kept at bay behind national borders.

Many of us dedicated ourselves to the relentless pursuit of a one-sided version of the American dream. We convinced ourselves individual achievement was the best way to further the collective good. At the summit of success, we would reach down to give a hand up to those climbing below – at least, that is what we told ourselves.

Not Greg. He did not wait to reach the crest. He often let others stand on his shoulders during his climb.

Even in the days before Ronald Reagan talked about Morning in America, Greg understood patriotism better than many of our generation did. He became a Marine. You must understand, the Marines did not teach Greg a thing about honor, duty and responsibility. Those things were innate in him. Even then he knew life’s mission. The Marine Corps was just one of the places that made the most of the things uniquely Greg.

After his military service, Greg built a business that counted the Marines Corps among its clients and he made the world a better place for his co-workers, his friends and his family. Greg and his wife raised two sons to be responsible, caring and giving men.

Like that lakeside vista at daybreak, Greg was something far greater than the sum of his parts.

Before the dew had dried and the loon’s call had stopped echoing in my ear that day a few weeks ago, the unnatural ringing of a telephone barged in on tranquility. My brother Greg had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.

I spent the next few days helping make the necessary arrangements and trying to come to terms with the first major loss of my life. The service was something befitting Greg. And I discovered death is not the deal making type. Those left behind must stand up and learn how to walk with the wound. There is no other option.

My brother was my champion, my ace in the hole in times of trouble, my trusted ally and my friend. I am grateful to have loved him and to have been loved in return. I hold our other brother, our parents, my wife and my kids, and all those who are part of my life a little closer these days.

The tremendous ball of energy that was Greg could not possibly have come to rest on pillows of clouds floating beneath golden gates. His spirit has dispersed like the first burst of sunshine on that pristine day. Something extraordinary lives in each of us lucky enough to witness such fleeting specimens of perfection. There will be no other morning like this one and no other person like Greg. It is up to me to make the most of the gifts each has given.

This brings us back to the choice we face today. This American chooses dawn and optimism. I will second my brother’s pledge to make a difference. If you join me, our country will again bask in the early morning brilliance of a brighter tomorrow.