On October 17th, 2017, Activist Fred Guttenberg’s brother passed away due to cancer related to his service in 9/11. Just four months later, his daughter was a victim of the Parkland school shooting. In this article, Guttenberg shares that while we all face horrible moments, what you do next is what matters the most.
“My mother used to say, a long time ago, whenever there would be any real catastrophe in the movies or on the air, ‘Always look for the helpers. There will always be helpers.’ That’s why I think if news programs could make a conscious effort of showing rescue teams, medical people, anyone coming into a place of tragedy, to be sure that they include that. Because if you look for the helpers, you’ll know there’s hope.”
I never expected this quote to have the deep meaning in my life that it did. For those who do not recognize it, this was one of the famous quotes from Fred Rogers, who we all grew up knowing as Mr. Rogers. As I wrote about in my book Find The Helpers, we all have our helpers, whether we know that or not. For the first time in my life, the importance of others in everything I was going to do became clear to me. It is my helpers who held me up, pushed me forward, and saved me, as I was truly broken. They gave me hope. Looking back over my life, whether as a student, corporate employee, entrepreneur, or as a parent, I always had my helpers. I just never realized how much they meant to me. I do now.
My brother Dr. Michael Guttenberg was a helper. He was an emergency room physician on 9/11/2000. At the time, he was Deputy Medical Director of the New York Fire Department. He was in the World Trade Center before the 2nd building was hit and he was in the building when it collapsed. The room that he and 10 other physicians hid out in did not collapse and they walked out. What matters most is what they chose to do next. They chose to stay and spend the next 16 days at ground zero treating patients. Thirteen years later, my brother was diagnosed with cancer related to his service on 9/11 and he died in 2017. He was a true hero. For our family, my brother’s illness and death was the worst possible thing we had ever gone through and it should have remained the worst. However, four months later, my children Jesse and Jaime were at their school in Parkland, Florida when a shooter entered. My daughter Jaime never made it home that day.
We all possess a level of strength and perseverance that we may not know we possess until tested. In my life I have been unemployed and not sure how I would pay the bills, I have been a corporate employee with a career in sales and sales management with the many ups and downs that go with that, I have been a business owner with the numerous highs and lows that go with that. What I can say with certainty, none of it comes close to what I have been through since the loss of my daughter. My prior worst moments do not compare. My hope is that from stories like mine, we all learn the lesson of perspective. Remember my story when you are going through what seems like a bad moment or the worst moment in school, or on the job or in business or in life. And then, think about all the other moments before where you felt that same way, and remember that they passed, they became nothing more than a memory. That you got through it. I will also say that certain moments in life, when they do come, are your opportunities for greatness. Following the murder of my daughter, I chose a path forward that has been very public and has had national implications. I went from being Jesse and Jaime’s goofy dad to someone who is on news programs, has written two books, and has become well known in Washington, DC and state capitols across the country. My future became dependent on the choices that I made following my worst moment. Think about Captain Sully and the choice he faced while flying his plane over NYC. The choice he made about what to do next when he landed a plane on the water saved everyone on his flight. Corporations and employees go through defining moments that shape corporate futures and careers, not because of the issue they faced or the moment at hand, but because of what was done next. Ultimately, what matters more than the moments that you are confronted with is how you respond to them. How you react to your moment when it comes is what will define you.
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