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As we all continue to travel along the path of our life’s journey, we occasionally reflect on many of its ups and downs. As a result of our experiences, we sometimes might even gain some eye-awakening insight and wisdom along the way, especially the realization of how our past can, and does, shape the future course and end result of our lives. Of late, I have taken a few spare moments to reflect back over my own life’s timeline. In the process, I discovered how life truly is the sum of all of its parts. I looked at how the influences of some key people I’ve met along the way, combined with my own past experiences, interests, talent and passions, all seemed to have come together to shape my life as it is today. It seems like yesterday I was working feverishly in the ad biz, and wouldn’t have ever given the word “retirement” a second thought. Well, I blinked and here it is today. We’ve all experienced this sudden revelation and have asked this same question-so what now?
We’ve all had some hurdles in our lives. Mine were no different, except for my first one that began at birth. I came in to this world with a crippled right foot. The doctors told my parents that their baby would never be able to walk. After numerous leg operations as a child, I eventually had my foot amputated at the age of 12 and was fitted with a prosthesis. I moved on to a normal life after that. It would still be many years later that I would finally realize the real value of what I acquired during this time. The time for the eventual amputation came as no surprise to me in October of 1964. Upon arrival with my parents to the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children in Springfield, Massachusetts, I was first greeted by the hospital admissions nurse. I’ll never forget her warm welcome as she gave us a tour of the hospital. After the operation however, my stay at the hospital would last 11-months longer than what normally would be expected, due to healing complications. It was during this time that I seemed to have developed an interest for drawing and taking photos. At that young age, I didn’t realize that these “interests” would later grow into a talent and provide the backbone for a rewarding, lifelong livelihood. After being fitted with my first leg prosthesis, I returned home, quietly putting the memories of that event in the back of my mind and thinking I would never see the hospital, or cross paths with my kind admittance nurse for that matter, ever again. Many years later I would discover how wrong I would be on that assumption.
Fast forward to 1972. I finished High School and later followed my artistic passions by majoring in art and photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Art & Design in Rochester, New York. It was here that Jeff Resnick, a future acquaintance of mine, had just completed producing a special album of music for RIT’s School of Art & Design and School for American Craftsman a few years later. Back then, Jeff had no idea that the album he just jammed out would resurface 40-years later, be re-issued and sold around the world as a rare jazz collector’s album. I knew nothing of Jeff or the album at that time. Ironically, I would discover many years later how the album’s future re-issue would become yet another key event in my life. After departing RIT, I began my advertising career with the Gannett Rochester Newspapers. It was after my 5-year tenure with Gannett that I first met and was hired as an Account Manager and Art Director by none other than Jeff Resnick for his newly formed Rochester, New York ad agency. This offered me my first experience in the retail ad agency biz. Jeff was more like a mentor than an employer. The time we spent together in the crazy realm of advertising lasted for 5-years. We later went our separate ways. I then began my own ad agency, never expecting to run into Jeff again. We both would cross paths again later on down the road. We just didn’t know it yet.
Hit the fast forward button again. It’s now 1995, and as so often happens in business, my ad agency was forced to close its doors after a successful 10-year run. I then bounced around on a long list of dead-end jobs, eventually winding up in the home improvement sales arena. During this bleak time, I put my Rochester, New York house up for sale and set my sights on relocating to Virginia Beach. I struggled while patiently waiting for the house to sell. On a hot summer day in 1996, I received two home improvement sales appointments with homeowners in Erie, Pennsylvania. The first appointment didn’t last too long, leaving me with time to spare before the second appointment. While looking over my map of Erie, I noticed the location of a nearby Shriner’s Hospital. Wondering how the new hospitals had changed over the years, I decided to put the car in gear and go check it out. After walking in to the main entrance of the hospital, I was immediately greeted at the front desk by an elderly woman. She was short, gray-haired and wore thin, wire-rimmed glasses. There was an air about her that left me with the impression that she had commanded that front desk position for quite some time, even well in to her obvious retirement years. With the warmest of smiles she asked if she could help me. I told her I was in the area, and as a past patient, wanted to see how the hospitals have changed over the years. She asked me which hospital I was a former patient in and what my last name was . . . my last name only.
“Hailston, Springfield, Mass.” I replied. What happened next knocked me off my feet.
“How have you been all these years, Alan?”
“You know my name?” I asked.
“I do indeed,” she said. “I was your admittance nurse in Springfield back in 1964. I remember you well and how much you liked to draw.”
That was 32 years earlier! We then shared a lengthy and wonderful conversation. After talking to her about how thankful I was in being able to walk and enjoy a normal life, I mentioned my wish to someday have more time to draw and photograph. As we wrapped it up, she left me with a few words that I have never forgotten. The kind, gray haired nurse simply said “Alan, follow your passions.” It wasn’t until just recently that I again reflected back on her kind words of encouragement and could finally see how those words, shared with me during one of the most difficult junctures in my life, would help to guide and shape my future for many years to come. However, as I would find out later, this wouldn’t be the last unexpected encounter or difficult time that I would experience!
Going forward to 1998, my Rochester house finally sold, allowing my wife, both daughters and I to move in to our new condo in Virginia Beach. Now living just a few blocks away from the beach, and with a new advertising job in nearby Norfolk, Virginia, it seemed as though we could safely start our lives over once again. I soon became inspired by the new beauty that surrounded me and began to pursue my passions once again for drawing and photography. Then, a year later, as chance would have it, I quite unexpectedly bumped into my former employer and mentor, Jeff Resnick, while hanging out during the American Music Festival in Virginia Beach. It wasn’t until our chance encounter that I found out that he moved down to nearby Williamsburg, Virginia the same time I moved to the beach. We’ve been collaborating on various projects ever since. Now, can you see how life-connections sometimes play out?
After my short 2 year employment with the Norfolk ad agency, I found myself once again starting up my own ad agency. Success and happiness followed until it all ended 8-years later in 2008. A series of events happened that year that rocked me to the core! My brother died due to a motorcycle accident and my father had passed away due to cancer, all within a short 6-months of each other. Everything fell apart. My passion and drive had left me. I tried to rebuild my life but couldn’t. I bounced from one dead-end job to another for the next 8-years, venturing into areas of work I never dreamed I would do. My passion and interests for photography and drawing would have to be put on the back shelf once again.
In 2017, I found myself as a contributing author on a new book entitled “Our Earliest Passions Shape Our Future,” with my friend and author Jeff Resnick. The book was released to coincide with the re-issue of Jeff’s jazz collector’s album for RIT produced back in the late 1970’s. It was while I was in the process of writing a chapter for the book that I allowed myself a first-time opportunity to reflect on my own past. It was like a dam had burst! I quickly discovered how my life’s events, interests, and chance encounters, the very sum of my life’s parts, were all linked to one another, and more importantly, why. Were the events and people connections in my life really just coincidences, you ask? They definitely were not. How do I know this? Let me take you back to my childhood stay in the hospital and share the most important part of it with you. In the hospital’s recovery room, after the foot amputation and the anesthesia had worn off, I was experiencing quite a bit of throbbing post-operative pain. Back in those days, post-op pain meds were held back from being administered to children. So, I began to pray to God. My prayer was simple. I prayed for God to reach down, touch my leg and take the pain away. Over and over, every prayer became more intense and focused. Finally, in mid-prayer, I felt a warm and soothing touch on my leg, just below my knee. The pain began to subside to a tolerable level soon afterward. At that time, being just a 12-year-old kid who hardly ever prayed and would try to find any excuse to skip church on Sundays, I didn’t think too much of my recovery room event. After I was discharged, I just moved on with my life as any other normal kid. But I remember that day, and that touch very well.
Many years have gone by since then, and as I have learned, my life today would not be as it is had none of my events, chance encounters and coincidences ever happened. As I see it today, the gift of my talent was given to me 55-years ago by the grace and love of God in trade for my loss. It was indeed the most important event of my life. In my mind, there’s no question about it. I have also been given the gifts of two beautiful, happily married daughters, four healthy grandchildren and a loving wife of 43 years. Now, at the age of 66, I can see in reality, that it was all part of a much bigger plan-God’s plan. And His plan is truly the answer to why.
Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to look back on our life’s timeline and see how it all fits together. Take a moment and look over your own past. It will help you better appreciate the present. I still find profound statements, words of wisdom, and coincidences popping up occasionally, and when I least expect it! That just proves to me that there is more yet to come, more people to meet and even more to learn. Just by chance last weekend, while channel surfing the TV, I caught the very end of a televangelist’s sermon that got me to thinking. He asked his viewers: “What else could God give to you in your life to make you happy?” My answer to his question was immediate: “Nothing,” I said to myself. “I already have it all.”
“The will of God will not take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.”
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