If you think about your own leadership — the passion you have for something important — I wonder if you might find this line from author and minister Michael Beckwith rings true: “Pain pushes until vision pulls.” I know from my own life that my pains, discomforts and losses became fuel — knowingly and sometimes unwittingly – to spur me to make things better. But no one in my life has taught me this lesson better than Oralya Garza.
Oralya came to us when my wife took office as Governor of Michigan in 2003. On March 31, of that same year, without notice, Oralya’s husband was found dead of a massive heart attack. Vincent, who found his dad was 10 at the time; his sister London 6. We really couldn’t imagine her pain. It didn’t go away easily. But somehow, she used it as fuel for three different vehicles. First, she was Mom and dad for her two spirited kids. Second, she wrote prolifically — poetry, stories, and original plays, with depth, pathos, and a dry searing wit.
The third vehicle fueled by her pain? She was my scheduler. She kept me on time and well used in my volunteer role, but she put the pedal to the metal at weekly scheduling meetings. There, when the schedulers pressed to send the Governor to one “must” meeting, ribbon-cutting, legislative mixer, fundraiser or another, Oralya would with ferocity put her foot down, “It’s date night, and we’re not canceling it.” Those nights were infrequent, but Oralya who had lost her husband fought for our marriage and for our kids. She was amazing. THIS was everyday leadership: principled, courageous, and compassionate — where pain pushed until her vision pulled.
On Sunday, I attended her son Vince’s funeral. At 22 years old, a heart attack, a pacemaker, and pneumonia came in rapid succession. He passed away last week.
I hope, with her permission, to post the eulogy/reflection she wrote for her son’s funeral. But for now, I offer a Facebook post of hers from this week. She’s turning her pain into vision. I write it knowing — I suppose hoping — that it will pain you, enough that you might convert it to fuel for your vision, to help you
lead with your best self.
I was watching through the window as they tried to pump the life back into my son. All evening there had been a huge family presence for another patient, invading the hallways, filling the waiting room – but it was only Vince and me because they promised me, he was in no danger. They were there because their family member was dying, and they knew that. Somebody brought me a chair. There was a clock to my right, and I marked the minutes – how many more compressions? When would his heart machine kick in? How long could he stay under.
I heard soft singing of a Muslim prayer coming from the next room, and I wished she would sing for my son too. I wished I could ask her to sing for my son.
But I sat there and watched through the window, waiting for Vince to wake up, listening to the debate of the staff on who would go into the room, wondering why there didn’t seem to be more haste. She exited the room. She was dressed in a reddish purple dress, head covered as her faith requires. She walked slowly as she passed in front of the window, temporarily blocking my son from my view. She stopped and we looked into each others eyes. Very softly she said, my son will die tonight too. I will pray to Allah for your son, please pray for mine. I thanked her and said that I would pray for him. He was only a few years older than my own. I remember the promise the doctor made, that Vincent was in no danger of death, that there were many things they could do before it would ever reach that point; and that was a lie.
So I pray, since they were wrong about my son, that they were also wrong about hers, and he lived. I pray that her son lived.