Learning From a Tragedy That The Right Time Is Often Right Now

Finding Meaning from Tragedy (Image from Flickr)

What is it about human nature that we’re obsessed with finding the right time to do what we can easily do now? I wish I could say that my pondering of this question emerged from a book or a work engagement, but unfortunately it came from a tragedy.

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine took his own life.

This was not one of those collective head-nodding, I-could-see-that, situations. It was a mouth agape, incredulous, sorrowful, and confusing one. For those who knew him, and knew him well, it was what could only be called a complete and utter shock. His Facebook page was filled with laments from friends who had seen him only days before, sporting his characteristic upbeat humor and ready smile. He was the kind of guy who made everyone who knew him feel better for it, with legions of friends spanning both coasts.

Though I’ve tried every which way, it still doesn’t make sense. And maybe it never will.

For myself, I’m left with trying to find some sort of meaning from it. I need to in order to process such a horrible event — to find a self-comforting coping mechanism that in some way provides closure.  It hasn’t been easy.

Is the lesson to live every day to the fullest? Not in this case.

You never really know the heart of someone? I hope not.

The best I can find is that it’s something about reaching out to those we care about and not letting distance and miles get in the way. And not waiting for the right time.

I hadn’t seen my friend in several years, though at one time we were such close co-workers working on frenzied political campaigns that we ate three meals together at work, and then got together on the weekends. There was a group of us who were inseparable. Then we did, to different coasts and divergent lives. Over the course of many years, we got to a place of exchanging  a few emails a year and perhaps a phone call, with careers, kids and busy lives to lead.

I was just about to call my friend the week before he died to say I was coming out to California for work and hoped to visit, and then I put it off until the right time. I wish I’d made the call. I’m not self-important enough to think I could have made a difference when he had such a loving family around him, but the call might have helped in some small way.

In coaching and in life, I see a lot of holding back and waiting for that elusive right time. Waiting for the best opportunity. Waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting to be recognized. Even waiting to lose weight or get healthy.

There are times the waiting is necessary, and many more where it’s a front for fear, laziness, or distraction.

So I’m going to be marinating in that question, of what does the right time really mean — is the construct for the situation or for ourselves? And pushing myself to acknowledge colleagues and friends who have meant so much to me. One good rule regarding positive expression: if you feel it, say it.

And I’m trying on the idea that the right time is generally now.

Now to find a new job. Now to make the call. Now to say thank you. Now to tell your kids they’re perfect. Now to see a friend.

I’m a fan of appreciation letters — where you write a sincere letter to someone who has been meaningful in your life. The act can be transformative for both you and the person you’re sending it to. I was inspired by someone once to write one, and I’m committed to writing more.

I’m reminded of that Neil Young song One of These Days that says:

One of these days/I’m gonna sit down and write a long letter/to all the good friends I’ve known
And I’m gonna try/And thank them all for the good times together/Though so apart we’ve grown.

I almost didn’t write this post today as I was waiting for the, you guessed it, right time. If this encourages one person to reach out whether by appreciation letter or simple words, or to take a needed step, you’ll be proving that the right time was really now.

Rest in peace A.P. You were glorious, just the way you were.

This post also appears in Forbes.com.

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About kristihedges
Executive coach, leadership development consultant, Forbes.com blogger, Entrepreneur.com contributor, author of Power of Presence (AMACOM).

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