Last week I blogged about how much I enjoy speaking to large groups. That is still very true. However, between posts I learned something about myself and speaking: When it comes to speaking about Warren, everything changes.
I was asked to accept an award on his behalf by a local chapter of a national organization. Anyone who knows our story knows that it isn't the first time I have had to accept an award in his honor. However, something about this time felt different.
I was asked to speak for no longer than two minutes, which is not a big deal. They also wanted a photo that showed his personality, and some facts about him for his introduction.
For some reason, knowing that I was going to hear about him and see his photo before speaking about him made me feel like I couldn't do it without becoming a mess of tears in front of everyone. Breaking down was absolutely unacceptable to me. I hate to cry, even more so in public. At least half that room knew him in some capacity and that affected me, too. They had an image of him that they were bringing to the experience and it made me nervous in a way that felt foreign to me.
I wrote and re-wrote my speech. My words felt inadequate. The delete button became the most used key on my keyboard and it was frustrating. My usual writing techniques were not helpful in this case. I felt stuck. I almost cancelled. Looking at photos took me back to happier times when I thought I had so many things figured out. Times when I felt excited about the future and secure in the present. Seeing his smile in exotic places we visited frequently brought the sad realization that my life is so different now than it was then. From the outside looking in, it may seem like it's not because I got to travel to Korea, or because it's been almost four years. Sometimes in my day to day I trick myself into thinking that his absence is due to a business trip, or a late night at the office, even though my heart knows otherwise. I know it's a coping mechanism, but flipping through photo after photo was like reminder after reminder that those thoughts are futile, silly and over simplifies my reality.
Each photo felt like it mocked me, piercing me with the reality that I'll never accompany him on a business trip to exciting locations. I would never again peek into a conference room and see how he owned it as he articulated his passion for his work. Gone were the days of being at his side while he worked a room or event. It's not the first time I've realized these thruths, but they hit me harder last week as I tried to think about a way to present him that hadn't already been shared.
I hate to say, I think I failed. I did not share a photo that captured his personality. I chose a photo that appears when you Google him. It would be easier for me to see right before speaking (which became a non-issue since they never showed the photo). I wrote a 2 minute speech that began with a quote that always makes me think of him. It included an example of how his work changed the community and those living in it. I didn't go into all that. Instead, I thanked the group for continuing to honor his memory, and challenged them to do what is right, even when it's not the popular thing to do. The whole thing maybe took fifteen seconds.
When I walked off stage, the first thought I had was, "Did I just de-value his work and his memory? Why did I cut it short?" He deserved every one of my words and more.
I was disappointed in myself and felt like I had let him down. After thinking about it some more, I realized that I did what Warren wold have preferred. Warren didn't do anything for recognition, so he wouldn't have cared to hear about himself for two minutes. To him, that would have seemed like an uncomfortable eternity. He would have been bright red and hoping for the two minutes to end. The thought of his humble and modest reaction made me smile. It brought me peace. I left feeling like I did what he would have wanted - kept it short and sweet and made it about those who remembered him, those working to build on his vision.
Looking back on the evening I wonder what he would have done if the tables were turned. He also felt comfortable speaking in front of crowds, so I don't think he would have been nervous. I smile because I think we would have had the same reaction. I think initially he would have felt like two minutes was not enough, but in the end would have realized that the award wasn't about the recipient, but about what it can inspire in others. And he would have kept it short and sweet.