My husband, Doug, had surgery to remove a brain tumor. My stepfather died. And during the funeral and burial, Duluth was being walloped by yet another 100-year storm, with $20 million in damage.
It was a painful, scary, exhausting and unsettling week, that second week in October.
And yet, for what I learned, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
The day started with a visit with Doug, two days out of surgery, at the hospital. The boys didn’t need his help to tie their ties for the funeral, but we all wanted him to do it for them that morning anyway. It was a physical connection and a quiet gesture to carry us all through the day.
With Doug in Neuro-ICU recovering, the boys and I went to the funeral. Just as I was about to start a reading from Philippians — “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” — the texts and updates about the storm started pouring in.
I turned my phone over, screen face down in the pew. The right people were tracking the storm. My family, my sons, and I needed me to be right where we were. I gave a silent, honest prayer: “I am helpless to stop what is already happening. We can fix broken things; may our people be OK.”
It was a beautiful service, and we sent forward the spirit of my beloved, justice-seeking stepdad of 30 years. We ate with friends and family. We swapped funny stories. We sang the great amen, graveside.
Afterward, our sons Gabe and Eli and I walked back to Neuro-ICU to see Doug. We walked in, and there he lay, now freed from layers of bandages and tubes, with an utterly perfect rainbow of 50 staples across his skull.
The storm was over.
I climbed into the hospital bed beside Doug and cried. Cried with relief that it wasn’t cancer. With sorrow because I already missed my stepdad. With frustration at the lake and Mother Nature.
And I cried with grace and gratitude for the lesson of complete and utter humility.
This isn’t the usual mayoral, year-end, looking-ahead column. I realize that. I could be writing about the $1.5 billion in private development we have taking shape, our comprehensive plan, the completion of phase one of the Superior Street reconstruction, the restoration of youth programming, or the big events happening next year for Tall Ships and Independent Television Festival.
But what I learned that second week of October has made me a better person. A better mayor.
Those four days reminded me about the value of vulnerability, the power of community and the essence of human connection. To hurt when someone else hurts. To help when someone else needs help. To reach out and text or call to make sure another is OK. This is the source of our resilience. It’s what gives us strength.
Those four days also reminded me how lucky I am. There was no cancer. I had been wrapped in the love of a beautiful stepfather for 30 years. No one was hurt in the storm. With this realization and gratitude came the responsibility to be fully present to the needs and vulnerabilities of others.
In a time of political storms of divisiveness and confusion, this searing lesson is a powerful reminder of what connects us. It is a start toward healing. We are given what we are capable of enduring, not what we always desire. And we rise courageously to do what’s required. We focus on what we can do now, and we trust that others will, too.
We lead with our hearts and we take care of each other.
My stepdad is released from life with ALS. My husband has recovered. With hard work, climate adaptation and a whole lot of money, we will rebuild the Lakewalk.
I’m ready to dig into the work that lies ahead.
From our family to yours, may the end of 2018 bring joy, peace, health and humility. May you find ways through your challenges ahead in 2019. May we all understand and realize the tremendous gifts of grace and love that surround us. Amen.
Emily Larson is mayor of Duluth. She wrote this article at the invitation of the Duluth News Tribune Opinion page, where it first appeared.