Going Down

© 2016 by Tom Sparough

Going Down

It could be said that alcohol was at least partially responsible. The drinks were flowing all night for the celebration.
Whatever the case, when the CEO of Your Shocking Friend, Inc. walked up to the podium, there was a standing ovation before he even said a word.

Bennett Kirk had transformed his company. In the last 12 years he had taken it from a two-person startup to the powerhouse of the defibrillation industry. His company was outselling all of their competitors combined.

It was profitable work and this celebration was designed to pump up his sales team.

After he had talked for a few minutes, he told them, “Do you know what a ghost is? A ghost is that little voice in your head that tries to keep you from being your best, that fills you with doubt.”

He took a sip of his beer and smiled at the team. “Well, I am here tonight to put another voice in your head. Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Bennett laughed. “That’s right, when you have challenges, when you have people that are roadblocks to your success, my voice is going to echo in your head. Don’t let the bastards get you down. You are on your way up!”

Bennett made a fist and pumped it in the air shouting, “Let’s have our best year ever!” He nodded to the band, and they immediately started playing the fast section of “Stairway to Heaven.” The room erupted with applause.

There was one person in the room, though, who seemed lifeless. He had been standing next to Bennett, occasionally whispering something in his ear.

The next day the most memorable thing from the night before was a hangover. Bennett was jetting across the country to an evening fundraiser. He was trying to clear his head and focus. He was glad there was a corporate jet so that he didn’t have to talk to anyone else. He was best when he made his decisions without interference.

The lifeless man from the night before was seated at his side. The man leaned over and said to Bennett, “You know what day it is and you act like you don’t care.”

Bennett knew that it was his daughter’s 10th birthday. He was going to miss her party. He had pressing business obligations. He couldn’t be there for every little family function.

“You haven’t seen her in six months,” said the man.

Bennett exhaled hard. I call her all the time, he thought.

“You haven’t talked to her in more than a month.”

Bennett took a drink from his seltzer water. Tonight in Seattle he had a chance to really make a difference. He had big plans for his company. Nothing was going to stop him.

New markets were his specialty. He had learned that there was no better way to open up a market than to have mandated regulation. Bennett’s current emphasis was to get a series of units in every high school sports stadium in the country.

In his strategic mind, you had to be able to tug on heartstrings. Every kid who collapsed at a sporting event was a poster child for his company. Bennett had learned of a state legislator whose daughter had died on a soccer field. Your Shocking Friend, Inc. was about to make a large donation to that representative and was going to suggest language for a state bill that could save young lives every year.

The ghostly man sitting next to Bennett was no stranger. He had been with Bennett since the beginning. He continued to whisper, “Will it ever be enough? Why are you really doing this?”

Bennett tried to focus on the business at hand.

The whisper came again, “Yes, business is good, but what about your daughter, and your wife?”

The divorce happened five years ago. Bennett could visit his daughter every weekend if he had time. But he didn’t.

One day his daughter could join the company. One day, all of this would be hers.

Bennett thought about his daughter who would be having a pool party today at the house. His jet was going to be flying over Springfield, Illinois. That was where he grew up and where his ex-wife and daughter still lived.

Bennett had big plans. He rarely thought about anything but business. His daughter’s party helped him to remember one of his fondest dreams. He had hopes of legislation that would require a defibrillator in every home that had a swimming pool. In his mind, every person who died in a pool was a marketing coin in his bank.

The shadow of a man sitting next to Bennett was considering an intervention. Whispering wasn’t enough. His name was Jacob Leymar, co-founder of Your Shocking Friend, Inc. He had been Bennett’s best man at his wedding. But ever since Jacob’s heart attack and death eight years ago, Bennett was consumed with business. He had no time for memories of his friend, no time to heed warnings, no time to grasp what really matters in life.

Jacob was a businessman. It was time to leverage this situation.

His lifeless body floated up the aisle and entered through the cockpit door without opening it. He took control of the plane. It went into a nosedive. The helpless pilot tried to correct the plunging aircraft, but there was nothing he could do.

Bennett’s drink was on the floor. “My god, what the hell is the matter?”

“I don’t know sir.”

From 33,000 feet to 20,000 feet Bennett thought about how this was going to interrupt his plans for the evening.

From 20,000 feet to 15,000 feet Bennett tried to help the pilot.

From 15,000 to 5,000 feet Bennett’s life flashed before him. The scenes of his life unfolded, who he was, where he had come from and whom he had always loved. His daughter was foremost in his mind, a dozen pictures of who she was and what she meant to him restarted his heart.

From 5,000 to 2,000 Bennett prayed for his life. He pledged that if he made it through this alive he would change. He would be there for his daughter. He would apologize to his ex-wife. He would not live his life only for business.

From 2,000 to 1,500 he swore again and again and again that he would be true to his word.

The plane righted itself and began climbing.

“I think we are going to be OK, sir, but I am heading to the nearest airport. It is Springfield, sir.”

“Springfield?” asked Bennett with a quiver.

“Yes, sir.”

Trembling, crying, Bennett imagined arriving at the house for his daughter’s party. Could he actually show up?

Would he be welcome?

He closed his eyes, tears making their way out of his closed lids.

“Don’t worry old buddy,” whispered a little voice. “It’s all going to work out.”

Reflection

Listening to the voice of wisdom is important, but certainly not easy. Most of us have conflicting ideas in our head about what is most important.

What do you notice about Bennett’s behavior in this story?
What is a story that shows your attempt at keeping your life in balance?