Anxiety Is Essential For…. What???

Posted on April 17th, 2020 by

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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23 Comments

  1. Bart Kosen says:

    Another wonderful blog from the mind and experiences of Neal Hagberg. A great reminder that we need each other, perhaps now more than ever. I am here for you Neal. We are all in this together. Love and light to you brother!

  2. Susie Lott says:

    Dear Neal,
    I am finding so many blessings, so much good, so many lessons in the midst of the uncertainty which tries to cloud our view. And…. this blog is rich with all three. There have been wonderful mentors in my life…..mostly older, yes, but some younger as well. (You are in this category, along with Dave Aasen and a couple of ‘my kids’ at Care Partners.)
    Thank you for this gift of your words and those of both Chuck and Mary.
    Have a beautiful day. Keep smiling.
    Susie

  3. Andy Elofson says:

    We are all thinking of you at this time Suyash!
    Hoping you have a quick recovery !

  4. Joyce Hagberg says:

    How well I remember when I first met Chuck Lofy … 24 years or so ago when he was a presenter at one of a women’s sessions at our courthouse. I told him about you and soon the two of you connected. He impressed me then and I know you have treasured him as a mentor.
    I am sad to learn of his oncoming dementia but his wisdom about it is comforting and wise.

    As I told you back at TLC over 35 years ago … we don’t own you though you are our son. You belong to everyone … you have a mission and are doing it
    ❤️🤗 mom

  5. Jennifer Kirby says:

    Reading this post slowed my heart rate. Just beautiful. Thank you for writing this!

    Carrie Newcomer has a great song that ties in to this too, called “Everything We Need.”

    All my best to you!

  6. Marcia Carman says:

    Great article and so many good points. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. olaf brekke says:

    The mysterious ways ‘dots’ get connected in our lives makes the journey so much more meaningful. We are all enriched by the lives of others and together we find life seemingly only limited by our own imaginations. I feel fortunate to have a granddaughter, Lillie, who included some time as a student at Gustavus and also ‘camped’ there during a summer tennis clinic. While her tennis game improved I was especially aware of the profound impact the experience in general had on her sense of SELF.. it is and remains a place to promote wellness and awareness. As I share words with others with whom I have never met, but nonetheless feel connected by this exchange and thank you for this opportunity. Neal your observations were helpful.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      What a delightful connection of dots. Thank you for those wonderful insights, Olaf. And hi to Lillie, wherever she is!

  8. Suyash Gupta says:

    Loved reading this Neal after battling Covid-19 the past 2 weeks. I remember meeting you the last time at GAC lunch buffet and seeing your smiling face! Always a treat to see you every time I get that opportunity. I am recovered and all well. Nothing to worry about.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Suyash! I am so glad you are better now. Are you home or still on campus at Gustavus? My feelings are returned to you, when I see you and your smile around campus and experience your kindness, I always feel better.

    • Jill Hildebrandt says:

      Hope you are doing better, Suyash. Thinking of you.

      Jill and Amelia Hildebrandt

  9. Betsy Lucas says:

    Thank you, Neal. You are a wonderful mentor to so many. I appreciate how generously you share your experiences to teach, support, and lift up others. True, wise, clear, and comforting words. Our family looks forward to the day we can all gather again at TLC. I’m sure you will have a new song for us by then! 😀 Thank you and Be well. -Betsy Lucas

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, Betsy, I was JUST thinking of your family today! You live the three crowns and give me strength. Thanks for comments.

  10. John Wilkinson says:

    Neal,

    All my mentors have died. I find that for me, listening to younger points of view, such as yours, may not clear my mind, but certainly can focus my hope for the future. Keep up the good work.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Thank you, John. Funny, I was just thinking that it will not be long before I am where you are with my mentors passed, and was thinking of how there are people younger than I am now who I gather wisdom from. The circle of life, huh?

  11. Jeff Olmsted says:

    Mr. Lofy is a wonderful person.

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      Isn’t he, though? At every turn in my life, he has helped me find the right way to turn.

      • Jeff O. says:

        I had the good fortune of going to college in Madison with Chuck and Mary’s son Bill. One of the highlights of my undergraduate education was when Chuck and Mary were in town to visit Bill and Annie. Chuck attended a political philosophy course that Bill and I were taking and it was an absolute treasure to watch him take in a lecture on Thomas Aquinas and understand it on a level that my 19 year-old brain couldn’t comprehend. It was an inspiration throughout my academic journey(s).

      • Neal Hagberg says:

        That is an amazing story, Jeff. So you know exactly what I’m talking about. How fortunate are we?

  12. Karen Sissel says:

    Great perspective and advice. Praying for everyone during this abnormal time! With a little luck and grace—we will get through this!!

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