In the summer of 2009 I was living in my truck.
A year earlier I had been a successful businessman with a big estate home and a picture-perfect family. Then it all unraveled.
As I was losing everything, I took what little was salvageable, selling off everything that I could, and set up my soon-to-be-separated-wife and our two young children with a furnished country home and a reliable Volvo station wagon. Then, I gave away everything but the absolute essentials and blew up a mattress for the covered back of my rusty old Ford Ranger (that was replacing my recently repossessed, leather-seated, German sedan).
With my business shuttered (ironic, perhaps, having only months before received my second consecutive nomination as business leader of the year), I found a job bartending and dropped off my tips every few days in Karen's mailbox. I was doing what I could, but felt terrible as she deserved so much more.
One evening, I finished my shift just before midnight and walked out of the air conditioned pub into a sweltering heatwave. I was grimy and sweaty and wanted a shower so badly. The YMCA was long closed and it was too late to drop in on anyone. Feeling a bit sorry for myself, I decided to drive to the lake and have a cooling dip before finding a backroad on which to park and sleep.
All alone, I waded into the shallow water, stopping a few hundred feet out from the sandy beach to lay back with only my eyes and nose above the surface. Unable to hear anything but my heartbeat, I gazed up at the shimmering stars and let my thoughts wander.
At first, I found myself focusing on all that I was missing. A soft bed. The incredible amounts of "stuff" I had worked so hard to accumulate over the years. The prestige and respect that came with being a community leader.
This list of woes continued to grow, but, before my mood could go into complete freefall, I caught myself and very consciously decided that I needed to take inventory of what I still had in the "plus" column.
Well, I was healthy. I still possessed every talent and skill with which I had earned my way to "the top" in the first place. I had magnificent children, and a loving, respectful friendship with their mother. I had a handful of close friends and family. In short, I realized that I had everything that mattered.
At that very instant, there was a colourful explosion directly above me. It was so spectacular that I recognized it right away as fireworks. But fireworks as seen from the inside of a 360 degree mirrored bubble, as my eyes were perfectly positioned to take in the reflection simultaneously.
I would later discover that a family had brought their leftover Canada Day pyrotechnics to the beach for a midsummer treat, but for now I didn't worry about where this show came from. Instead, I remained acutely aware of what a unique and magical opportunity I was experiencing, as burst after cascading burst enveloped me in a kaleidoscope of colour.
By being absolutely present, the few minutes felt like a lifetime - a lifetime during which I renewed my gratitude for everything I'd ever had and would ever have again. And for this miraculous moment that could never have happened had my life not unfolded exactly as it did.
Once the last rocket had burst in the midnight sky, I stood up in the waist deep water and walked in to shore. The family, gathering their blankets to head home, was startled to see me, as they had no idea I had been directly beneath the falling embers. As they started to apologize, I cut them off with a heartfelt "thank you" and explained how it had been an incomparably beautiful show, the likes of which would almost certainly never be repeated.
Today, four years later, my life is completely different again, filled with opportunity and travel and adventure and love. I am closer than ever with my children, and still best of friends with my erst-while wife (who has built a magnificent world of her own with a beautiful log home, a dream job, a small business, and a fantastic boyfriend).
With a blossoming (and perfectly portable) new career, I have replaced very little of my material possessions, choosing instead to travel light and remain ever available for whatever serendipitous satisfactions life brings my way.
Because there is always a miracle hovering, whatever the circumstances. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way to see it.