“Nancy, Nancy, wake up! NANCY!” I shouted to rouse my sister who was asleep on a chair-cum-bed in my father’s hospital room. It was just after 7:00 am on a Sunday morning. We had dozed off at about 3:00 am. Cancer. I’m not sure why I woke up when I did. His breathing was erratic. We held his hand.
These moments raced back at me this week as I was reading William Bridges’
The Way of Transition: embracing life’s most difficult moments” (2001, Perseus Publishing). Of course this happened as I was reading in a coffee shop. Tears flowed. Has this ever happen to you? The other patrons must have thought I’d lost my mind…
William Bridges is a rock star in the transition world, having authored the 1980 Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes…..Novofemina’s Summer Book Review # 2. In his earlier work Bridges defined transition as a process comprised of “an ending, followed by a neutral zone, followed by a beginning.” The newer book uses Bridges’ own life and experience with transition as a backdrop to more expansive thoughts on transition and its accompanying phases. Together these two books offer some of the best thinking I’ve read on the topic.
In The Way Bridges introduces readers to his own difficult transitions; a significant career change, an isolating geographic move, the loss of a spouse to cancer after a 37 year relationship, infidelity, various flavors of uncertainty. Need I go on? Bridges is all too human in this text. Blessedly. I enjoyed hearing about his transition’s complexity. I guess misery does love company.
Bridges’ thinking has matured in the twenty years that elapsed between his two books. In The Way he offered a few perspectives that I’d encourage you to think about:
- Choice versus decision: Prior to reading The Way, I’m not sure I ever thought much about these two words. Bridges notes, “decisions are made on the basis of evidence and logic, but choices are always an act of will.” (The Way, pg 173) My decision to leave my last job was a choice not a decision. Bridges makes a choice following the death of his wife….I won’t spoil it for those who plan to read…I will say that Bridges migrates toward choices in his later transitions. I wonder what message we should take away from that?
- Authenticity: Bridges evaluates several characteristics of transition, one of which is ‘being authentic.’ He states, “transition can be a step toward our own more authentic presence in the world…we come out of transition knowing ourselves better and being more willing to express who we really are.” (The Way, pg 37) I remember writing my personal elevator pitch in January of this year…after twelve months in the transition vortex I was surprised at how authentic it really was. If you haven’t taken this exercise step, please give it a try…
- Debunking ‘right’ answers: Bridges encourages readers to “shut off the anxious search for the right answer….Your way is more important than a right way.” (The Way, pg 208) Bridges is a proponent of meandering and finding success from ordinary living. His remarks reminded me of working in Brazil early in my career. There was a word I learned, passear (pronounced pass-A-are). Brazilians used it to mean ‘taking a little walk after dinner.’ Along the beach promenade in Rio. Through the narrow streets of Sao Paulo. No destination in mind. Just a walk. Meandering.
Bridges’ honesty in The Way is jarring at times. My thinking after reading and doing the exercises (The Way, pg 85+) is that transition is a constant in his life, perhaps in all of our lives. The variable isn’t transition itself but the fullness with which we embrace it.
It’s been 7 years since Nancy and I held my father’s hand. Would it surprise you that he died a few minutes after I woke her up? He couldn’t talk to us at that point. Just before he breathed for the last time a single tear trickled down his right cheek. An ending.
I think about that tear every so often and the days that led up to it. A few days prior to his death my dad asked if I loved what I did. At the time my answer lacked authenticity. I knew it but hadn’t yet made the choice to act. I wonder if he knew it too?
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