These strange times have prompted me to revisit stories and experiences that inspire me. (See below to share your stories of resilience and inspiration.)
People's stories feed my soul. They needn't be extraordinary, but Osman's story surely is. Osman (not his real name) was my client nearly twenty years ago, when I managed a project at a major hardware manufacturing site in the southern United States. The facility was being closed and Osman, just 27 at the time, was being laid off from his engineering job. Shortly after our first meeting, Osman told me his childhood hero was a priest, though Osman himself was not Catholic. In the coming weeks, I would learn Osman's story and the role his childhood hero played in it.
Until the age of eight, Osman lived in Eritrea, Africa, where freedom fighters periodically rode through his village, firing indiscriminately from open trucks. People were generally safe, Osman explained to me, if they stayed in their homes and off the streets. But, for reasons Osman didn't explain - or didn't know - at the sound of the freedom fighters' guns, his teachers would throw open the school house doors and shout to the children, "Run home! Run home!" Halfway home Osman would meet his mother, running to bring him to safety. "Mama, Mama," he would say, "you should stay home! You should stay home with the babies!" But every time the freedom fighters rode through town, Osman's mother ran to the rescue of her "miracle child."
Why was Osman her "miracle child?" When he was an infant, his family took him to the hospital, near death. "Why do you bring him here?" the people at the hospital asked. "He's dying. Take him away." Osman's Uncle begged them to keep him so that his mother wouldn't have to hold another dying child in her arms. She had lost four children before Osman. The hospital staff relented and kept Osman. The family returned to the hospital in the morning, expecting to retrieve the baby's body. But to their great joy, Osman had survived, becoming his mother's "miracle child."
When Osman was eight, his family left Eritrea and moved to a refugee camp in the Middle East - I don't recall in which country. The closest school could not or would not accept the children from the refugee camp, so a Catholic priest started a school for the refugee children, becoming Osman's childhood hero. Osman continued his schooling in foreign lands, eventually moving to the United States to earn an engineering degree from the California system of higher education.
When Osman was laid off, his concern was not for himself, but for his family, because he sent a significant amount of his pay home to help support them. He wasn't worried about their food and shelter, explaining to me, "God will continue to provide for them." He was, however, worried about the money he sent to an employer to claim certain family members as employees. "If the money stops, he'll remove them from his employment records, they'll be deported to Eritrea, my young brothers and cousins will be drafted into the military and they'll all be killed." In Osman's mind, these were not possibilities or probabilities, but certainties. I can't imagine his burden at the age of 27 or at any age!
There was a happy ending to my work with Osman. My team and I helped him land a new job and negotiate a late start date, so he could travel to the Middle East to visit his family, as previously planned, marry his childhood sweetheart and return with her to the United States and his new job.
Osman's story reminded me then and reminds me now how lucky I am to have been born in a democratic country, to have a loving family and to do work that I love with fabulous clients. Thank you for being part of my life and work.
Do you have a story of resilience and inspiration? Please share it here.