Business was good. So good, in fact, that the family company had become one of the largest breweries in New England, producing 300,000 barrels a year and supporting two generations of Geisels in Springfield, Mass.
Theodor Jr. could envision the future — a secure, prosperous one — a business he could hand down to his 15-year-old son; a proud legacy.
He confidently took the helm when his father died. Everything was mapped out.
And then, six weeks later, the unthinkable: Prohibition took effect, forever shuttering the family business.
Theodor felt rudderless. He dabbled in real estate but wasn’t compelled to pursue it. Finally he got hired as Springfield’s superintendent of parks. The park system included a fledgling zoo, where he often brought his son. It became a beloved part of his childhood, a place he spent hour after hour sketching animals.
Theodor aided his son’s artistic endeavors, giving him the bills, horns and antlers of animals that had died, which he incorporated into quirky sculptures. He was learning to think outside the box, to assemble body parts in unexpected ways to surprising effect. It was the perfect training for what would become the legendary career of Dr. Seuss.
I’ve been thinking about the role of change in our spiritual lives: its impact, our response. When something upends the status quo, we tend to operate less like a ballerina — leaning in, leaping forward — and more like a toddler being dragged out of a toy store, kicking and screaming.
Only looking back can we see the growth and grace that resulted, that wouldn’t have happened had we been allowed to remain burrowed in our warm little nest.
My friend Wendy broke her elbow in a biking accident three years ago. Being laid up forced her to look within. Soon the Iowa native was searching for job openings in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She filled out an application by typing only with her left hand, pecking away at the keyboard. She got the offer and made the move, beginning the adventure of a lifetime.
Now she looks back on her biking accident with gratitude.
“Ultimately, it was a blessing because it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the state of my life and acknowledge that I was ready to make some changes,” she told me. “Also, getting through the pain helped me fully realize that I had the strength to make such a bold move.”
I’ve been asking for stories of silver linings, and I haven’t been disappointed. At a birthday party on a sweltering Saturday, someone pulled me aside and described the bad teacher who had helped make him a good teacher. He learned so much from an experience he had wished away as a teen.
The following Saturday, at another birthday party, I heard how a tornado knit together a neighborhood.
“Suddenly we all had the same weekend agenda,” a 50-something dad explained.
Neighbors shared hamburgers and power tools. Kids befriended other young explorers climbing fallen trees. Decades later, they remain close.
Sometimes in the spiritual life we are like the toddler at the toy store: fists clinched, minds closed. We do not trust God’s master plan. We cannot see the bigger picture, how the break-ups and breakdowns lead to breakthroughs. We forget that there is almost always an upside to being let down.
But stories like these remind us. And Catholic spirituality is based on storytelling. We gather around water, with incense and oil, and we tell stories. We pray the mysteries of the rosary. And sometimes we find ourselves living them: sorrowful and joyful, glorious and luminous. Water turned into wine.