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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

Anxiety Is Essential For…. What???

Chuck with his wife Mary.

I talked with my 88-year-old mentor, Chuck Lofy, two days ago, as the magnitude of the pandemic washed over me.  Chuck is probably the person who has helped me through more life changes than anyone in my life other than Leandra and Madeline.  He, Steve Wilkinson, and Dennis Johnson have been my rocks as mentors.

Just hearing Chuck’s voice made my day better.  I found out, though, since we haven’t visited for a couple months, that his brilliant mind is now in the early stages of dementia called Mild Cognitive Impairment, which looks to be a pre-cursor to more severe dementia.

He spoke of it matter-of-factly, as though it is a natural course of life (which it is). He spoke about it but didn’t dwell on it.  Instead, he wanted to know how I was doing.

I asked him for advice, as I always do, after telling him of my sadness and anxiety about the uncertainty of the world, TLC, the campers, and staff.  He said, as he always does, that he had no advice.  But he had some thoughts.

Here is what he said that you might find helpful.

1) The two characters that make up the Chinese word for crisis, when taken separately, mean this:  danger and opportunity.

We are experiencing both. We will heed the first and seize the second.

2) TLC will get through this with kindness, because that is who we are.

3) Existential philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (who I studied 40 years ago in college, coincidentally) said anxiety is “the dizzying effect of paralyzing possibilities”.  Which we are going through right now in the thousands of scenarios we are playing out in our minds and the “what ifs” that we are all daily trying to navigate.  And, while these feel paralyzing to us right now, here is what Kierkegaard also says: “Anxiety is essential for creativity”.  Though our lives and world feel at moments like they are in a free fall, it is exactly this anxiety that will drive us to create new things, a new TLC, a more refined vision.

(But, may I add, it is zero fun in the meantime…)

I turned the conversation back to Chuck.  I asked him how he deals with losing his memory, knowing his disease is progressing, and knowing that he knows it, and that at some point he may wake up and not know himself.  I asked if it felt like everything was falling apart inside him just like everything is falling apart in the world.

His answer was, “I am at peace.  I am not afraid.  My main concern is for Mary.”  Chuck is a former priest who left the priesthood to wed Mary, a former nun.  They’ve been married forever and are one of the most remarkable and resilient couples I’ve met, strength to strength in creativity, toe to toe in arguments, love to love in fierceness.

He went on: “But we moved to Michigan a number of years ago, as you know, exactly for this, so we could be near our children and grandchildren because there was always the probability that I would fail first.  And we have made tremendous friends here.  We talk openly about my memory impairment, and about my going to die before Mary.  And she says, ‘I will be fine.  I will be sad, I will miss you terribly, and I will grieve deeply.  But I will be fine’.”  Chuck said, “Knowing that, what more could I ask?  I am rich, like your song says, ‘Your love is the water and I’ve waded into the holiest of streams…’ ”

So, my mentor said, finally, we have everything we need.  If we look.  Even when things fall apart.

And that’s what I want to say to you today.

We have everything we need.  We will get through this.

Oh, and one more thing.  Find yourself a mentor like Chuck or Steve or Dennis, someone who is not family or close in age.  Someone who is older, wiser, and will listen, not just give advice.  Reach out to them. Your favorite aunt.  A teacher.  A family friend.  Someone who will listen to you and talk you off the ledge when you need that. Especially in tough times.  People like that invite you to wade into the holiest of streams and come out changed.  People like that help us turn our danger into opportunity.  And people like that help us turn our anxiety into creativity.

Have a good day, you’re doing a wonderful job, TLCers.  Create away.


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