Special Blog Post – Tribute to a Friend

This article was published in SaskBusiness…but I decided to rerun it today…for reasons which will be obvious on reading…

It was May 14, 2010 and the sun was bright, the air alive and invigorating. It was a beautiful spring day in Saskatchewan, the kind of day that one could take for granted…if they weren’t battling cancer. There’s nothing like death to make us think about life.

One of my best friends over the past fifteen years was diagnosed with lung cancer (January 2010). Ken is one of the most unlikely candidates for lung cancer, given his lifestyle and that he has not smoked a day in his life…apparently disease holds no prejudice.

Ken’s spirits were generally high, for he is a man of deep faith in his Creator. However, we are not singularly spiritual beings; our physical and mental capacities often run down, which can leave us with little resolve. He would experience days where he had loads of energy in the early morning, but then completely fade away just a few hours later. These were times when he lacked the energy to do the things he loved to do. However, worse yet were the long nights, where at 2:00 am he would wish for relief…to escape through sleep.

Ken and I were never bowling buddies; we were into coffee and conversation…deep conversation. So, on this beautiful spring day in May, when I asked Ken for a general update on how he was feeling after several rounds of chemotherapy, I knew I would be in for something worth listening to.

We had just been at the weir watching the pelicans display their precision fishing skills. With Ken’s wheelchair back in the trunk, and our windows rolled down, I threw the car into gear and asked him if “some things just don’t matter anymore?”

He was quick to reply (with a chuckle) that, “Many things don’t matter anymore!”

I pressed deeper…“Do some things seem to matter a whole lot more?”

Ken let a moment or two of silence hang in the air, and then responded, “People matter a lot more”, and then he quickly added, “To know the presence of God matters most of all.”

Whoa! This is a strategy calibration column in a business magazine…what’s with the “God” talk?

Before you judge me to be a pulpit-pounding preacher, please understand that I am relaying Ken’s exact words so that you may have the opportunity to address one simple question: “What is the point of business, if we have not taken the time to contemplate the context of life?”

Psychologist Viktor Frankl speaks of his admission to the Auschwitz concentration camp; of how they were stripped naked and had every bodily hair removed. In “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he writes: “Thus the illusions some of us still held were destroyed one by one, and then, quite unexpectedly, most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humor. We knew that we had nothing to lose but our ridiculously naked lives”.

During conversations with Ken, I was able to borrow from his near death experience, and confront some of the illusions of my own life. Illusions revealed in actions, which imply that material things bring happiness, or that position equals value. I spend far too much time and effort pursuing these, or worrying about how to maintain them.

How tragic when we measure life, failure or success, by possession and position. If only, and finally, we could arrive at the place where we understood that a man’s life is not measured in these. It is all about relationship. We choose a vocational path appropriate for our skills, education and experience, but the need to choose a path arises out of two necessities: to generate income so that we can provide for our selves and our family, and to provide for our “customer/client’s” needs. Every vocation will serve both of these two core functions, and every business must market its products and services in relation to them.
Business is never “just business”…for all of life has a greater purpose. It is completely possible to be busy doing, and miss the whole point of being. Doing is partially motivating…but “being” runs much deeper!

How motivated could we (and our employees) become if we were more purposeful in discerning the connection between our being and our doing? It is impossible for us to answer this question for anyone but our self. We each have the gift of intellect, and the individual freedom to choose.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, September 18, 2010, in the palliative care ward of St. Paul’s hospital, Ken passed away. I attended his funeral one week later, where I witnessed the impacts of a life well lived. A thousand people sat for three and a half hours listening to accounts of how Ken had been an encouragement to them…I would have listened for much longer.