‘My name is Carl. I was a cop for twenty years. When I was forty my daughter left home and then two years later my son moved out. Then I got to see that I didn’t have much of a relationship with my wife because I had spent all the years of my marriage working and not really participating in family life. With the kids gone we didn’t have much to say to each other. After a couple more years, my wife decided to leave and all I had was my job. The next year, at 46, had my twenty years in and had to retire. I got to know what lonely meant very quickly. I still don’t have much contact with my son, but my daughter and her kids keep me going … but somewhere along the line I figure I’ve missed something, and I’d sure like to find out what it is. I’d like to know that my life is worth living.’
My friend, Carl, was caught in a story of uselessness. When he no longer had the one thing that he had learned to identify himself with, he lost his place in the story – he lost his self-identity. He decided that if he was going to survive he would have to change his story. It really wasn’t a difficult thing for him to do. Carl was so miserable that literally any life would have been better than his. As it turned out, like so many of us, what Carl needed was simply to be heard. As he listened to himself tell his story, he began to see things that he had not seen before, things that he could change. So, that’s what he did. He changed his perspective, and in so doing, changed his life.
Carl began to look at what he had accomplished in his career rather than the negatives that had so depressed him. He began referring to himself as an ex-police officer rather than an ex-cop. He joined a health club and became intent upon regaining a healthy body and then became a volunteer trainer at the club specialising in helping senior citizens plan exercise programmes. He went back to college and earned a certificate in nutrition. Within three years he changed his story, his life, his reality.
When I last spoke to Carl he had met a delightful and creative woman, was working hard at re-establishing contact with his son and couldn’t get enough of his grandchildren with whom he had created a powerful bond. His life, he told me, was sweet. It was, he confided, very worth living.
What Carl made me realise was that, firstly, I was not happy in my chosen vocation, and secondly, that there’s a little bit of Carl in every one of us, whether we are a police officer, salesman, or therapist. We can all change and grow in a specific direction, become better, different, whoever we want to become if we are willing to change our story. So, Carl, wherever you are, thanks for helping me make my life worth living.
Editor’s Note: This is the third in the ‘Transitions’ series dealing with the lives of everyday people – a series of short stories relevant to almost all of us in one way or another. They come from people whose stories touch us and give us important insights into our growth and happiness.