I’ve gotten acquainted recently with Dan, a good man in his mid-50’s who is changing. My grasp of the language leaves me short of a single word or phrase precise enough to describe the place in his life that Dan has reached. But people who have started projects at Community Partners may recognize something universal in Dan’s story and help me give that place a name.
For decades, Dan forged a secure home and hearth with his wife and their kids. He has achieved a large measure of respect and success in his chosen field. He’s acquired the means to make some choices about the next steps ahead. A recent visit to a school serving poor kids in the Caribbean triggered in Dan an intense yearning of late to re-cast his life with a greater devotion to public purpose.
Agog in amazement at their father’s sudden flurry of energy, Dan’s children have their mother’s reassurance that, yes, this is exactly the man she married. She’s thrilled they have this chance to see what sparked her early love for him.
A natural doer, Dan itches to act, to share with others a lifetime of learning and know-how. Gifted with a wide network of colleagues and friends, he’s ready to urge them into action as well. He wants to do something for others and have the people he knows do something, too. Yet Dan, with the wisdom that so often graces intelligent passion, has paused to seek the counsel of others.
One morning recently, Dan gathered a group of advisors. Some are friends he has known for years. A few have only recently entered his orbit. In his living room, he drew them into conversation. The currents of his advisors’ experience and knowledge flowed into the stream of Dan’s hopes and his fears, his questions and his forming ideas. Without shame and in all humility, Dan confessed that he’s only just now discerning the contours of the wider service terrain he hopes to tread.
Dan listened well. He displayed with good humor the explorer’s two-edged virtue: undaunted courage coupled with an impatience to discover what’s up ahead. Dan heard his advisors predict that more lies in store for him than merely “doing for” other people. To act in ways that make a lasting change – especially in people’s lives very different from his own – Dan’s advisors urged him to go beyond doing for. They suggested he open his heart and mind to a genuine two-way exchange with those he wants to serve.
Dan valued what he heard. Stirred by the vision of a future steeped in real exchange, Dan glimpsed new possibilities. Out of them might grow any number of civic or charitable projects. He realized that his doing for urge, informed by authentic learning from, can in fact end up in a promising, constructive making with. Fired by real understanding, Dan’s desire to act has a better chance of welding itself to the aspirations of those he once might have been satisfied simply to do something for.
And Dan’s kids – with their mother – can keep watching in love and awe as, from the blaze of Dan’s passion to serve, a new man rises up, phoenix-like, and soars.