In the film “Wall Street,” a broker who is about to lose his job and perhaps his freedom, is advised that when a person stares into the abyss he takes a true measure of his strength.
Today, I read an article about an entrepreneur who poured his life savings into a home furnishings outlet in a rapidly growing village in the southwest, only to see the economy tank, houses foreclosed and a mass exodus from the town timed almost exactly to the opening of his shop.
In the article, he stands alone in a deserted parking lot surrounding a ghost town strip small, a black hole of sorts sucking in his dreams and all that he has worked for to this point.
The shop is his abyss. What does he see as he stares vacantly at it?
Some years ago, my mother’s common law husband told me a story of his days as an alcoholic, roaming the mean streets of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. On one nightmare of a day in a broken life marked by chaos, he hit bottom, alone and bleeding on the steps of a church. Rescued by a stranger, he was taken to a hospital to be treated, yes, but more than that, to stare into the abyss.
What did he see?
I am reading now about FDR’s first 100 days and the character traits that guided him to navigate through the second darkest period in US history. His most improbable trait was born years before when as a vibrant and athletic young man of wealth and power, he was stricken overnight with polio. Staring at the ceiling, struggling with the idea of himself as a “cripple,” he looked into the abyss.
What did he see?
In every single human life, there is an abyss. Or two. Or more. It comes in business. In family. In our own sense of who we are, who we are not, the options in front of us, the opportunities we cultivated and those we let slip by.
In a sense, staring into the abyss is often the darkest hour. It cannot be belittled. It cannot be romanticized. It is a true and painful test.
I believe, however, that there are only two visions we can see when we stare into the abyss: endless and hopeless darkness or a tableau of what we will paint with our future once the terror passes.
My mother’s soul mate built a loving life with one of the kindest women in the world. Franklin Delano Roosevelt found a blueprint for becoming President of the United States.
What we see and what we do with the vision, shapes us more than anything in life.