I believe in personal responsibility.

Jim - Fairview, North Carolina
Entered on April 4, 2008

This I believe…

As I reach my mid-50’s I remain somewhat confused as to exactly what it is that I believe. For just when I thought I had it all figured out, a fateful mountain bike ride one year ago entirely transformed my core belief.

You see I have lived my life proudly believing in my own personal responsibility, with full confidence as the proactive master of my own fate. From my earliest years I have worked hard to responsibly provide for my self, my family, and my family’s future well being.

In my youth I worked tirelessly mowing lawns, pumping gas, delivering pizzas and newspapers, and saving all I could to put myself both through college and graduate school, entering my professional career with only a small student loan. Hating even this modest dependence on others, I paid the student loan off early. I continued working and investing responsibly enough in my professional years to fully provide for three more college educations: for my wife, then my daughter, and now for my son. After two successful corporate consulting careers, my wife and I created and ran for eight years a unique Bed and Breakfast Inn which provides a beautiful forest retreat for families of all kinds, and for kids of all ages, even kids like me with grey beards. We worked very hard and invested much over our life together — so much so that we sold our inn last year and retired much earlier than even we successfully planned, we purchased our new retirement home without a mortgage.

Being more than just a responsible provider, I have also regularly contributed to social causes and personal community service. Travel during my consulting years and demands of the inn limited some of what I could do for others outside of our own nuclear nest. But I have contributed my fair share in service to others, helping this world be a little better place for my being here.

Yet all my pride in these accomplishments was drastically shaken on that fateful bike ride a year ago. While riding my mountain bike as I regularly did near the inn, a drunk driver in a truck took a curve too fast, swerved into my lane and hit me head on. Thankfully I don’t remember the impact or even much of the next day. But witnesses tell me that I flew pretty far in the air from this collision. A stranger driving by stopped to call 911. A neighbor I didn’t know heard the impact from his kitchen and rushed to cover me with a blanket until the EMS crew arrived to scrape me off the road. Another crew flew me by helicopter to the hospital, not sure I was going to make it.

Meanwhile a business friend conducting a meeting at our inn soon heard about the accident and went through my office for quite a while to finally find a phone number to get a hold of my wife who was at a family retreat out of the country. When I did wake up at the hospital a few days later, some of you from this church were sitting at my bedside.

I can’t even begin to count all who have helped me recover during this most difficult year, which included three surgeries across eight months and seemingly endless physical therapy. Many of you provided meals for my exhausted wife, who struggled to take care of me, our business, and our son. Some of you in this room called, came by to help, shared a book, or more importantly just sat with me, encouraging me through those dark early days. My brother came to help run the inn, followed by my father and his new wife who also helped us with a nearly simultaneous crisis with our son. My father-in-law, despite my stubborn protests, helped us financially when (I’m still embarrassed to admit it) we really did need it. And my patient wife graciously put up with my limited abilities, my moodiness, and my seemingly endless despair about whether I would ever recover. When we sold our inn last spring, I swear half of this congregation helped us move to our new home.

So what is an overly proud self-made man to do in the face of all this generosity? And now what sense do I, the personally responsible man, make of all this? First of all I want to thank all of you again for the many things you did to help my family cope throughout this extended crisis. I truly appreciate all that you did and will never forget the many ways you were there for us.

Secondly, as some of you may have come to recently regret, I became more involved in this wonderful church community. I’m working hard with many of you to ensure the financial success of our church in this very important year as we stretch to provide the financial support needed to obtain our first regular minister. And it is now my turn to be there when any of you need someone to stop by. I really hope you will call me whenever you need any help at all.

As I began to physically improve, I have also started to more directly serve our wider community, especially for those less fortunate in our midst. From small things like picking up roadside trash along my daily run to volunteering with less advantaged folks at our local credit counseling agency, giving back any way I can is the new focus of my personal responsibility. Hopefully like the many people who helped me through this tough year, I can personally be there for others I don’t yet know well, perhaps helping them make it through their tough times too.

What I now believe in more than these words can adequately describe is that inter-dependent web of all existence of which of which we each are just a small part. And especially now, I believe that as the personally responsible, self-made man that I am, I can strive just as hard, just as long, and as just as successfully for others as I have for my own family.

So I guess what I have come to believe in more than anything else really does come down to my own personal responsibility after all.