Success for a person, they say, is defined by someone getting up one more time than they fall or are pushed down.
Triumph for an organization, it may be said, often enough comes from learning the lessons of near-death experiences well enough to figure out how not to repeat them.
Redemption for a nation, I’d like to propose, happens when the struggle to cultivate virtues decisively overcomes the legacy of past vices.
The similarities of these three hard-knock, by-thy-bootstraps-thou-shalt-hoist-thyself observations strike me as analogous to the connections between AHL, FPRI, and the USA.
Alan joined FPRI in its 21st year, if we count from 1955 to 1976. By the time April rolls around, Alan will have been a part of FPRI for about 44 years of its 65-year existence, or roughly two-thirds of the whole—and his tenure has been unbroken by any significant meandering out of and back in the office door. That’s an all-time FPRI record, by far. Not even the couch I fixed during my first week of work at FPRI endured as long.
Alan missed FPRI’s first office above what used to be Girard Bank at 36th and Walnut Streets, but he long suffered the all-but-windowless Science Center office at 36th and Market. He then migrated to Ralston House and thereafter to 1528 Walnut. Along the way, he has not held every job that FPRI had to offer, but probably more of them than any other single person.
Alan has, I think, also known well—or well enough—every one of FPRI’s Directors, including its Founder who preceded his arrival. That group includes a man who (at least on one occasion) danced precariously on top of his Director’s desk in full view of staff with an open bottle of vodka waving about in his right hand. What I am trying to say is that things were not always OK at FPRI, and Alan saw close up most of the many and varied examples of “not OK.”
Alan endured personal hard knocks along the way, as well. The less said about them the better. I know from personal recollection that there were plenty of laughs and good times; this is no occasion to be morose. But alas, suffice it to say that some people have this tendency of dying when you really wish they wouldn’t.
For all the hard knocks, personal and otherwise, Alan has come through them unbowed. His natural humility notwithstanding, he has every reason to take pride in his FPRI career. He left every task better off for his having handled it, and now that his stewardship is coming to an end, the place seems to me to have a higher quality program and a more stable financial circumstance than any I have been aware of since my tenure started in the summer of 1972. (I happen to be personally aware of FPRI’s long tradition of financial tree-topping, for during one of its near-fatal swoons in the summer of 1995 I was knocked hard from one of its tender boughs, face-planting in the undergrowth.)
As to the USA, well, I have to agree with President Obama (or a talented speechwriter of his) that America’s historical arc has leaned toward justice. Many setbacks having been endured, things have nevertheless gotten better in the ways that count most—at least until fairly recently. I am well aware that many Americans these days are skeptical of that claim, possibly more than ever. I am not oblivious to the reasons, but I think the cynics are mostly victims of their own truncated historical perspective, and that our noisy minority of resurgent nativists are bound to be disappointed, as always, in due course.
Through all of their respective hard knocks, AHL, FPRI, and the USA have gotten better, stronger, and hopefully wiser. Long may all three wave.