The standing-room-only memorial service was for a woman who died suddenly, and much too young, at age 57, just 10 years my senior. The service featured tributes to a woman who had positive effects on her family, friends, co-workers with simple, heartfelt actions. The overflow crowd was proof that grand gestures, copious funds, a big stage, or even seven or eight decades of life are not necessary to have a dramatically positive effect on the world.
As these kinds of events often do, it got me to thinking about time, and in this case, especially that particular unit of time: 10 years.
Ten years from now, my children will be full-fledged adults about to celebrate their 30th and 26th birthdays. Ten short years ago, they were both in elementary school.
Ten years ago, my youngest child was just two years removed from a two-and-half-year course of chemotherapy to treat leukemia. I didn’t go a day without thinking about it.
Ten years later, she’s radiantly healthy. I still don’t think I go a day without thinking about her bout with cancer and being thankful for her recovery.
Ten years ago, as I walked with my first grader and fifth grader to school on a Tuesday morning, I met their principal in the crosswalk and learned from her that the World Trade Center towers were gone.
Ten years later, we finally found and killed the mastermind of the plot that brought down those towers, killed thousands of Americans, and terrorized this nation.
Ten years ago, this nation had a budget surplus and Americans were “confident that the longer-run fundamentals [of the economy] were still sound” according to Robert Parry, then-president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Ten years later, we live with the fact that we compromised sacred American principles. We face a record federal deficit, are embroiled in two grinding wars, endure layoffs and high unemployment, and suffer a foreclosure and home-value crisis that has devastated many Americans’ single largest investment.
Conservative columnist and former Bush speechwriter David Frum recently made this observation about the last ten years: “We’ve evolved in the space of a decade from ‘deficits don’t matter’ to ‘defaults don’t matter.’ It seems flabbergasting that a conservative party could arrive at this destination.” Indeed.
Ten years ago, action movie star and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger impregnated his family’s housekeeper. In the ensuing decade, he kept that information secret from his wife and family. He also kept it secret when he moved from movies into politics, while he asked California voters to recall an unpopular but duly elected governor from office and entrust him with the state’s highest office instead. He kept it secret while he watched his wife and representatives defend him against multiple accusations of inappropriate behavior with women.
Ten years later, it’s clear to the vast majority of Californians that the Schwarzenegger administration was a disaster for the Golden State. Schwarzenegger left office earlier this year with job approval ratings as low as the man he ousted.
Ten years later, a few months after he left the governor’s office, Schwarzenegger revealed the truth about his affair and “love child,” devastating his family and quite likely destroying his 25-year marriage. He also added another “*-ator” nickname to his collection, one I’m confident he rather not have.
Ten years ago, South County was debating how to manage an expected explosion of growth in Coyote Valley and many Morgan Hill residents were hoping that a population center there could help to re-open its recently shuttered hospital. Ten years later, Coyote Valley is undeveloped and the hospital remains closed except for a few medical offices.
Ten years ago, the now-ubiquitous iPod — a device that’s even made its way onto our phones — had not yet launched. Ten years later, the device, and subsequent related products, helped take the company from losing $195 million in the first quarter of 2001 to being ranked as the most valuable brand in the world.
Ten years: So much can happen in a decade, yet each one passes much more quickly than we expect and so much faster than the last. If we’re lucky, we live the standard seven decades or so. If we’re even luckier, we enjoy them in good health and security, in the company of beloved friends and family, and while doing meaningful work.
No matter how matter decades we’re given, however, it’s a good idea to periodically take stock of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. The difference between expectations and reality can be surprising.