During October 2012 at the invitation of Lieutenant Colonel Chris McGowan, I felt honored to share my story with the Fifth Engineer Battalion, located at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. LTC McGowan, having heard my story during a previous assignment when we served together, asked me to share it to encourage his 700-plus soldiers as part of their resiliency/suicide-prevention training.
I shared with these soldiers part of my story where two questions changed my leadership journey. In February 2010, I had attended another seminar by the Rev. Ray Vander Laan (RVL), I heard him tell an anecdote he had used before. But that time I really heard it – and his story entered my life as a cocoon-of-truth that morphed into revelations that eventually helped free me from several figurative prisons.
After a long day of teaching in the Galilee area of Israel, a rabbi sends his disciples home. He finally has some time to himself as he returns to his village. So he does what rabbis always do with alone time: he meditates on the day’s Scripture passage and communes with God.
The rabbi is deeply lost in thought and when he reaches a fork in the road, instead of going left, to his home, he turns right. Still lost in thought, he hasn’t a clue that he’s going the wrong way.
Still lost in his meditation as twilight approaches, he is startled to hear a Roman sentry bark out a challenge, “Who are you, Jew? And what are you doing here?”
Looking up, the rabbi sees a Roman fort that he’s never seen in his life. For once, the rabbi doesn’t know what to say. “Uh, what?”
The sentry challenges him again, “Who are you? And what are you doing here?”
Quickly the rabbi collects himself and asks the sentry, “How much are you paid a week to ask me those two questions?”
The sentry, taken aback momentarily, answers, “Three denarii a week. Why do you ask?”
The rabbi responds, “I’ll double your pay if you’ll come and stand outside my home and ask me those two questions each morning: Who are you? And what are you doing here?”
RVL zeroed in and made it personal. He asked, “If you take away your title, your career, your bank account, your achievements, your academic degrees, and so forth – Who are you? And what are you doing here?”
Earlier I thought I had good answers to those two questions. But as I really heard them that time, I realized my honest answers to those questions were very shallow. I had been defining myself by what I did: I had the Marine Corps dress blue uniform, two rows of medals on my chest, and shiny lieutenant colonel rank on my collar – and I was striving for another medal and the next promotion.
All of that was fading away as my knee issues prevented me from continuing to serve, take command, and pursue the next promotion.
To be continued