Several years ago, when I was on the faculty of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications University of Nebraska, I became acquainted with Roger Fransecky. He is Founder/CEO of The Apogee Group, a global management consulting and leadership development organization, and he was coming to Lincoln to see the college and talk.
Roger had made a major endowment gift to the college in honor of his wife Nancy Foreman who had been on the Today Show for years. She was a top on the air personality at NBC.
They lived in Omaha, and she worked for NBC while he traveled the world in his consulting business. However, his life had been changed forever in August 2008 when he came home from the airport and found that she had died suddenly within two hours after his regular call, “It’s on time, my love.”
In his newsletter that September he wrote:
“She died without being able to say goodbye. In the dark forest of grieving, there are only brief shafts of light. Our wonderful children, a loving family, so many close and nurturing friends, all stepped in with love, support, patience, wisdom and the quiet presence you need when it feels as if your world just ended.
“Nancy and I celebrated every day. We made our marriage a daily commitment. We had fun, grew wiser, struggled, laughed, collected, built, moved, nurtured, spat, loved and lost as all of us do. Her death startled her, I know, and it came unfairly. We both understood that we are not in charge, but we shared the hope that this was our time when we would finally have more time to play and ponder. If you want to hear God laugh, tell her your plans.
“One of Nancy’s favorite books was The Last Time. The book’s simple premise was never more prescient or compelling than now. We never know when it’s the last time…the last ride without training wheels, the last salute before boarding the plane, the last breathtaking sunrise, the last kiss in the morning as you part.
“I ‘feel’ Nancy editing me again, and she was my best editor in all things. It’s important to take something from this terrifying loss: make every moment count. Do what really matters to you. Don’t waste a second with the wrong person, dream, hopes, job, missed birthdays or lost, wasted hours.
You never know when that is the last time. Stay conscious and present in your life. Savor your days and moments. I remember both.”
In our first meeting, I immediately realized that this sensitive man is a person of deep wisdom. When I returned to Ole Miss, I wanted him to visit Oxford and speak to our faculty. As we talked on the front steps of Farley, he suggested the possibility of his company’s co-hosting conferences at Ole Miss for top media executives. This idea sparked Dr Samir Husni to host his annual ACT magazine conferences, the third of which was here last week.
Then a few weeks ago, October 8, he sent the following newsletter:
“The Shadow on the Bridge
“There is no delight in having prescient moments if what you foresee brings a dark shadow instead of a burst of insight or a brilliant possibility. In last month’s Newsletter, I wrote about crossing a swaying rope bridge between our Now and what may come next. Just days after having written that, I met a dark shadow when I was diagnosed with a serious brain tumor.
“From that moment forward, everything has changed.
“Life is rich with irony. I had just signed the final agreement with my partners to shift much of the day to day responsibilities of our practice so as to allow me more time to write and reflect. Just a few hours later, on that very day, I received the startling diagnosis. Rarely have I been ill, so it would seem that I am getting the “Big One” after all these years of good health. Today, I am a happy parent, and a new grandparent, all in the full sunshine of great friends and a season of my own making. I was not expecting to walk smack into darkness. After all, I am usually the one to bring the light of hope, humor, optimism and possibility to my family, friends, clients, students and partners, during times of uncertainty.
“The Shadow met me in middle of that swaying bridge and redirected me to a new Next I could never have anticipated. In this season, which will soon be aflame with October’s lemoning of the leaves and the bringing of ripeness and sharpness to each chilly morning, I am rather saddled with an uncertain future. Sickness has a way of deferring the invitation to enter a new, favorite season. I am resolute in not letting that happen this bright Autumn.
“When dramatic changes block the path you’ve prepared, it comes as an affront to your sense of order, and, yes, to your feeling of control. These calamities are quick to show us that we aren’t in control of anything. Our well-ordered days often mask the stark realization that we are really only furniture movers in life. Far larger plans are afoot, and we are often left standing at the margins watching as Life assumes a course without our self-important permission.”
I responded as soon as I read the newsletter:
“Your newsletter was a shocker,” I wrote.
“I have been looking forward to visiting with you to talk about all sorts of possibilities, and now I am hoping that we will have the opportunity to visit despite the rigors of treatment that you will face.
“Portions of your newsletter reminded me so much of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
“And in this season of this great challenge, I cherish even more our friendship and your wisdom, and my respect for you continues to grow every day. Again this morning I read your wise insights and paused to pray that you will have many more years to bless us with understanding. “
And during the last week of October, he sent another newsletter with more insight and wisdom:
“I write this in the last days of October, a time rich in the smells of autumn, with fall leaves, restless as sparrows, rustling along the sidewalk. The world seems to be preparing us for winter as we gather, rake and cart away the collections of another season.
“Three weeks ago, I shared the stark and dark surprise of learning that I had a brain tumor. Since then I had exploratory surgery, and I have begun treatment. I am committed to staying aware and awake to my feelings and the full experience of this path.
“During all of this I have been intensely touched by your emails, cards, missive and calls. It has meant so much. Serious news sparks fear and and a sense of isolation. I know I am not alone.
“Over the years of writing these newsletters, I persist in urging you to ‘discover the prose and poetry of your life’ so you can pay attention to what you are doing, and what, awash in the energy of doing, you are becoming.
“I am so aware of the importance of each moment I have now. You shouldn’t have to discover a terminal illness to remind yourself of a truth that provides context for this roiling year of leading and living: our lives contain both prose and poetry. It’s time to pay attention to our simple daily rituals and patterns; the stuff that keeps us fed, folding laundry, watering the plants and washing our cars, the Prose of living. But it’s also important to rediscover, perhaps for the first time, the Poetry of our lives, the simple joys and small events with our children, our family, our friends and the small silences of each day that remind us of the precious moments we share together. And experiences ourselves.
“What is important to learn? Where is there trusted wisdom in a confusing world of constant change?
Again, I urge you to return to the invitation of poetry:
‘Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispering healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests the whole body,
steeling you for revelation.
In the silence that follows
a great line
you can feel Lazarus
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands and walk toward the light.’
“The Lightest Touch” David Whyte
“A recent Wall Street Journal offered a lovely story on Oxford, Mississippi, a place I have visited several times at the invitation of a good friend, Will Norton, Dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.
“The WSJ profile reminded me of the first trip I made to Oxford, 52 years ago when I was writing a thesis on William Faulkner. While on campus this year, I walked the grounds of his nearby home again and was reminded of Faulkner’s pull on my younger self, trying then to understand the mystery and darkness of his cypress laden images of the South’s ‘storm and fury’. I hadn’t really experienced either by then, but I knew I could learn so much from him. And, I did.
” Somewhere, I learned to push into places I don’t understand stay there long enough, under the heavy leaves of accumulated wisdom to discove r apath to deeper understanding. Or, the courage to stay long until I was ready to step back into my Next.
“Autumn invites those personal inventories and the poetry that can provoke in us. Back in Oxfod all those years ago, I wrote: ‘Teach me fall/as you cast your leaves/ for one last holiday/ not to mourn for my summers gone/in the Autumn of my years/ as chill winds blow your wealth away.’
“It’s not too late. Rake and listen. Read poetry, and sink into the images, the sounds, the silences between the lives. Listen to the ‘poetry’ that you discover between the leaves in your feelings, in the quiet of simple work, and in the delight of actually completing a task. Listen to the whispers of lovers and friends in the sudden winds that move memories and leaving around you.
“Find the poem that is you.
“Let this new poetry gift your November, your autumn inventory, with peace.”
Roger was the keynote speaker at the first ACT conference. His is the speech that attendees quote when they mention that first event.
You cannot help but be drawn to the warm, insightful gentleman whose words are like warm oil, bringing healing to a soul in pain.
And I look forward to many more, inspiring conversations with the prose and poetry that is Roger Fransecky.
I thank God for what he continues to mean to me.