June 10, 2010 United Chicago to SacramentoIt is one of those very long trips that is squeezed into a very short time. Have been invited to speak at the California Realtors Board of Directors meeting in Sacramento. So the trip is from the Atlantic to the Pacific for a 10 to 12 minute speech and a few other presentations. My time with the Californians will be limited to 36 hours including sleep time. It is probably the right amount for both of us.
In order to get there, I must leave from Green Airport at 6:30 am and connect in Chicago for a flight to Sacramento. My name is on a waiting list to upgrade to first class, (for free if there is room). What is really exciting is that I do get upgraded to seat 4D. Ok it is not an aisle seat, but a window seat. Yes I end up in the window seat. When I fly, it is my preference to go on the plane at the last possible moment. This is most contingent on my ‘carry on’ situation. If I have two pieces, it makes sense to go on as early as the ‘system’ allows. This day, my luggage is limited to a briefcase, but I am so excited about the upgrade, I join the other first class passengers.

After I am settled in a tall young man, with a military discipline, arrives at 4C. He is pressed and meticulous with his presence and his dress. Every hair knows its place and is at attention. We exchange greetings, He has a warm smile but there is a deepness in his eyes that does not reveal itself. He settles in and the plane takes off. Both of us are preparing for meetings and conversation is almost nonexistent. When lunch arrives, our work takes a respite . We have that data drop conversation in which you share your biography in chalk line fashion: no depth, just outline.

Michael works for a medical device company and is marketing director for their sales force He lives in Sacramento and he graduated from West Point. The last fact was obvious from the second you looked at him. He works out a lot to relieve stress and prides himself on staying in great shape. He is soon to turn 40, but you would date him a decade younger. When I asked about his family he shared that he had gotten married a year ago to woman he had met in the gym. She was in her late twenties and a great person. He also shared that he had two daughters 10 and 6. He softened so much when he talked about them. From the tenderness of the conversation, you knew there was more to the conversation. The obvious question just hung out there for a while: Where is their mom? After a while, Michael decided to go there. His wife had passed away three years ago having lost a war to brain cancer. He talked about how brave she was and how great the medical team in San Francisco was. His ten year old daughter knew her mom, but mostly in sickness. His 6 year old really did not know her. You could tell from the tone and calm that person had suffered a great loss, but was really an amazing, strong father. His decisions for life were focused on this daughters.

When asked as to how he copes, he paused for a long time. He finally said that he does what he has to for his daughters, and he does it one day at a time. It was apparent he struggles with it every day. His oldest daughter really looks like her mother, so there is a constant reminder. He also talked about how valuable sports were for him. He was an All American wrestler in high school and competed at West Point. He maintained that the training sports, and military provided him with the discipline to get through the tough times. In some ways, he was trying to convince himself.

We talked about life and mentors. We talked about parenting. We talked about dreams, loves, and losses. And then we landed. I wished him well and wanted to give him a hug, but it just did not happen.
We left the boarding ramp and our paths diverged, but I was more for having met him, albeit a brief meeting.