A year ago this week, I was walking in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I noticed the ground was covered with brown leaves and only a couple of days before they were not there. I took a quick photo. I love taking photos and I pay a lot of attention to the craft of my photography. However, I saw no scenic value in that photo, other than helping me convey the message that I was formulating in my mind to share on social media. I wanted to revisit a concept I had shared a few times that month, that summer's passing is nothing to mourn. Here is what I wrote: "See these brown leaves? They weren't here yesterday. The pretty fall season is coming; fresh breezes in the cool sunshine, trees like a canvas, painted a different and beautiful color every day. Good night from 'God's Little Acre.'"
I was happy to get a lot of responses from people who appreciated the message, but I was actually surprised by the comments from so many who thought the photo was beautiful. I took a new look at this photo, which I now think of as "the accidental photo," and started to see the same value everyone else did. I was quite pleased because the photo I gave so little thought to, turned out to be one of my favorites.
As I walked along that day, I thought more on the message I had put up, about embracing the change of seasons. Then it occurred to me that the seeds of that perspective, not being a prisoner to time or the calendar, actually came to me fifteen years earlier. NYPD Detective Nivrose Duncan was a member of my community affairs team, in Brooklyn South. He suffered a liver disease that progressed to the point where he was close to losing his life. Thankfully, in December, 2006, he was able to get an emergency liver transplant, and after an intensive surgery and a grueling recovery he worked his way back to being healthy, and again serving our city as a full duty police officer.
Every year several members of the NYPD are selected to receive a very prestigious award, the Police Commissioner's Theodore Roosevelt Award. It is given to officers who, like Theodore Roosevelt, have overcome an illness or injury and gone on to do outstanding work in police service. Award winners are invited, with their families, to a formal dinner at the New York Athletic Club. The Police Commissioner presents them with a beautiful plaque and a monetary award.
I was so excited to direct someone on my staff to have Nivrose's name submitted for consideration. Months went by and I saw a memo come out from the Commissioner's office announcing an upcoming Roosevelt Award Dinner. Nivrose was not on that list; his name was never submitted. I was disappointed for sure, actually upset, but I took a number of steps to make sure we all remembered to put in his name the following year. Before I knew it, I was reading the same memo from the Commissioner's office, a year later, and there was Nivrose Duncan's name. He was selected and I was so happy and excited.
I reflected during my drive home from the event that night. I was so happy to see Nivrose and his family beaming with pride and joy. Then a couple of other thoughts occurred to me. I wondered what management missteps I took the year before, when his name was never submitted. That was a big moment for me, because as a boss it's so easy to blame everyone else, but that was one of the many moments in my growth that I realized I had some work to do, on myself. Then I thought of how I was so upset twelve months ago, but when I saw that Nivrose was selected and when I experienced that evening with him and his family, those twelve months did not matter. It seemed to happen, just when it was supposed to.
So many times in my life I have been disappointed, even angry, because something didn't go my way, or didn't happen when I wanted it to happen. I have spent too much of my summers looking at the calendar, painfully mindful that it would end soon. I've given too much of my Octobers, and then Novembers, to bracing for the bitter winter to come, which robbed me of the moment I was in.
"Live in the moment" can be a meaningless cliché, but It really is one of the secrets to happiness. Like everything else important in life - recovery from addiction, exercise, and even relationships - it takes mindfulness, work and persistence. It's not always easy, but it's certainly worth the effort.
I know of at least one person who lives in the moment and enjoys his days and the seasons just as they are, just when they come to him; Nivrose Duncan.
Joe Fox is a retired NYPD Chief, with over 37 years of experience, motivational speaker, author, business consultant, leadership/life coach, U.S. Department of Justice Medal of Valor Review Board Member, Board of Directors, Rockaway's 9/11/01 Tribute Park, Board of Directors 5Star Life Insurance Company, serving US Military and first responders, social media influencer and digital creator.