During a softball game in the summer of 1981, a lively and otherwise intelligent redhead slid into first base and broke her leg. (Don’t ask.)
Meanwhile, a tall and slightly older newspaper editor, after years of ignoring his health, began to have problems that led him to quit cigarettes, stop drinking coffee and lose 40 pounds.
It was not a very delightful time for either of them. Yet, their temporary infirmities led them to the same religious retreat where they met.
And Cathy and I have been together ever since.
When it comes to Thanksgiving, the focus is usually on the blessings of life, the good things that we have and that we have experienced.
Think of the table set for the holiday meal, with its savory turkey and all the luscious side dishes and diet-be-damned desserts. It’s a reminder that Thanksgiving is about a bountiful harvest.
Think of the grace that’s said at the table. It’s about how good it is for family and friends to gather together in this way. It’s about the goodness of having a decent home, rewarding jobs and strong schools.
Things that go wrong
But I’m here today to tell you that, when I think of Thanksgiving, I also think of the things that go wrong — and then right.
The health problems that my future wife and I suffered more than three decades ago were no fun to endure. But they slowed us both down enough so that, when we met, we actually saw each other. We didn’t whiz past in a hurry to get something done or get somewhere else. Instead, we were moving at a more deliberate pace, and were able to take each other in.
And fall in love.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that I go looking for pain and suffering. Life brings enough of that for me without my going out in search of it.
Many of the good things
No, what I’m saying is that many of the good things in my life have resulted from some (not all!) of the bad things that have occurred.
When he was looking for a college to attend, our son David had his heart set on getting into Georgetown University. It didn’t happen. So he went to another very good school, Boston University, where he did well in a management program and now has a fine job as a financial analyst and strategist.
Oh, and one thing more. While at BU, he met Tara, and now they’re married. And all because he didn’t get into Georgetown.
Five years ago, I was laid off from my newspaper job after nearly 33 years with the organization. I did NOT want to be laid off. But there you have it.
Still, I gritted my teeth and girded my loins and went out into the job world. I got a great gig writing a thrice-weekly blog about Daniel Burnham and present-day urban affairs during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1909 Plan of Chicago. After that, I had the chance to write about community development around the country for a national website and even spent a year editing that site.
Now, I’m focused on writing books. One, Catholic and Starting Out, was published in June; another, a history of my Catholic parish, Woven Lives, came out in 2012. I’m in the middle of writing a book about the history and importance of the elevated Loop in Chicago, and I’m also gathering material for a history of Chicago.
I’m still NOT glad I was laid off. Just as, three decades earlier, I wasn’t glad to have to give up cigarettes and coffee.
But I can see that being sent out the door of the newspaper opened the door for me to a lot of other opportunities.
Not every hardship, disappointment or sadness leads to blessing, not at all. But some do.
For those, I’m most thankful.
Patrick T. Reardon
This essay originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on 11.26.14.