The Positive “Shadow” – Rick Fowler and other unsung friends

This is week 3 of a round-robin blog thing put together by my friend Liz Solomon Wright.

This week’s blog topic:

An accolade – write about a positive experience this week and give someone (or some company) some kudos. You don’t have to know the person personally (so it can be a celebrity or politician). Let your readers know why you think they deserve kudos.


It is funny to me that this is the question of the week, because I was in the mood the other night to blog about what incredible friends I have. I listed 5 or 6 friends and described them as people who are:

a) good at what they do professionally; b) good for the world in their private lives in some way; c) intelligent; d) loving toward their families and possibly raising great children who express a, b, and c above.

So as not to waste good thoughts, the people I was thinking of at the time were:  Ron Bottitta, Cat Chapin, Joe Roberts from my generation, Derek and Dawn  Cunningham and Rob McCarthy from the generation after mine, and my sister Michelle Beebs, whose band is touring the entire country this Spring/Summer with the Warped tour.  There are a whole lot of my friends on Facebook who also fit the characteristics I described above, but that was a random sampling that popped into my head and I started there.

Then Tuesday I went to support another friend and his  wife, who is having health issues. That friend is Rick Fowler and his wife’s name is Holly Hassett. Married for years, she never took his last name and he was ok with that (more on that later). At the visit were Rick’s  2 sons, Mark and Jamie, and a daughter by Holly named Emma. Holly’s  family members were there, as well. Add to that nurses, chaplains, dieticians, a bakery that sent bread and 2 full trays of food from the hospital and you have the makings of loud chaos in a small room. And yet, the room didn’t have that feel at all. It emanated warmth and love and twisted humor (also marks of my friends). The room felt like a No-Hate Zone for reasons that I can’t explain other than to say that all of the people there were there for Holly and Holly is – as Rick will tell you – a No Hate kind of person.

During the visit, Rick talked about how incredible Holly was for the world. She worked in Mental Health and Addictions for years, was a quilter, a story-teller, a mother, and a good wife. He also expressed his regrets about spending time fixing cars rather than spending time with her. He continued on about how good she is and how she did this, and this, and that, and that and how the people at the hospital liked her and so on. As Rick talked, I couldn’t help but notice his “Shadow” coming out.  Rick clearly knows how cool Holly is. I wanted him to know how cool he is.

Carl Jung talked about The Shadow as the part of our psyche that we don’t know, or deny. Rick’s “shadow”, then, is that he’s good. He sees the good in others, but I’m not always convinced he sees the good in himself.  Alternatively, Rick just won’t tell you about it because he’s a guy.

When I was in grad school for psychology, I did an intervention with a client while class-mates watched behind a two-way mirror. In the intervention, I let the client lead the session, as he had grown enough psychologically enough and expressed an interest in becoming a therapist. The women behind the glass were shocked by what they saw, apparently, and informed me that they had never gotten a chance to see two guys just talking as though they were having a beer or a coffee. They could see the healing taking place when guys just talk to each other.

Rick – like many men — is a contradiction in terms in so many ways.  He’s complex, but not “complicated”. He’s a feminist, but he’s not “soft”.  He doesn’t necessarily talk “politically correctly”, but he lives that way, which confuses people who care about looks more than substance. “Irascible” is the perfect description of Rick if you don’t know him, but a teddy bear if you do.

 Rick is a guy’s guy (as compared to a “man’s man”) and a woman’s man (vs. a “Lady’s Man) and it’s not in his personality to make a big deal out of himself.   Guys don’t talk about being guys (because they just are) and when women talk about guys, they are only guessing/projecting. They tend to be into analyzing power dynamics. 

But real guys don’t want power over women and can’t understand why they should. They want equality between themselves and their partners, because it’s right and because they love them. They love their partner and love means you want the best for them. In addition, Rick actually understands power dynamics and justice concepts and Biblical analysis. Rick is an intelligent guy with an extensive vocabulary which comes out in his preaching at churches. Still, For a guy with a public job, I suspect it’s exhausting for Rick to be a “public” person. Rick has been my mechanic for years and when things get tough or overwhelming, he works on cars. Rick will tell you, if you ask, about his Myers-Briggs type and how he likes things which make sense, and cars always make sense. Guys, generally, like things which are fixable, and cars are always fixable – some to a greater degree or lesser one depending on availability of parts. At the end of the day, Rick’s life makes sense.

 During the day, however, it makes much less sense as he does a job I could never do.   Rick is a hospital chaplain and has been for years. He sees illness and “regular” death daily. But he also sees the preventable illness and the senseless death fairly frequently.  When my wife was doing hospital chaplaincy two summers ago, we came to an understanding about each other. I can see “crazy” people all day. Death, however, I can’t do. I want to help and just don’t know what to say. So, until I can raise people from the dead, it’s too stressful.  My wife is the opposite.  She can do physical pain, but gets drained by mental illness issues. Rick seems to do both mental and physical illness help every day, for hours. Would you know it? Has Rick ever had a breakdown or burned out? Not that I have seen. Does he care and is he frequently in pain about the world? Yes. But he just quietly goes about his business.

But even his hospital isn’t showy. Like Rick, it just does its job in its area of Connecticut and – it turns out is well-known for delivering high  quality cancer care.  Its buildings are modern and it’s people up-to-date with the latest technology, but the place is in the middle of nowhere, Connecticut, in the middle of a nice non-descript neighborhood. Rick fits very well there – quality, without showiness.

It is here where I see Rick at some of his finest. The other day at the hospital, the staff had surrounded Rick with support. Bakers who knew him sent bread. Nurses who knew him came to see how he was. Friends who knew him came to see him. Doctors came.  Chaplains came.  They came because he had been there for them a thousand times before, quietly and compassionately.

One of the reasons that many people go into ministry is that they want to see Christianity in action and they want to build a Christian community of which they are a part. They want to feel what Christianity feels like.  They want to both experience it and give it to the world as a beacon of hope. Rick has done this at Bristol Hospital for years, and my visit there the other day exemplified it. It was not only a “no-hate” zone. It was a deep, compassionate community of love for one another.

The fact that Rick’s children were there – and also fit perfectly – means that Rick creates community wherever he is.  His kids show off the humanity and care that Rick has shown to them. The chain of warmth extends out into the world and it is better because they are here. At the root of it all is Rick, touching lives as he goes. God bless him and the people he touches.







6 thoughts on “The Positive “Shadow” – Rick Fowler and other unsung friends

  1. Wow , John I don’t think we have met but you certainly nailed Rick. Holly and Rick are incredibly special people. Thanks for putting it into words.

    • Judi:

      Thank you for saying that. I mostly just listen. But he is, as you say, an incredibly special person. And, as he would say, so is Holly.



  2. This is a great tribute to Rick and Holly also, my son is finishing his schooling in Psychology and he wants to help people who are dying. Thanks for posting this.

    • Thank you. They ARE, indeed, nice people and they deserve credit for doing all they have. Re: your student –better him than me. That work is HARD, but rewarding, I gather. Both Holly and Rick will appreciate his work : )

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