Crucibles

In their book Leading for a Lifetime, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas singled out “crucibles” as the crucial test and formative factor in leadership. The imagery is from medieval alchemy; a crucible is a vessel where ordinary metal is transformed into precious ones.

Crucibles usually connote dramatic, life-changing events and challenges. But they can also be less dramatic, cumulative, and day to day. I am reminded of the distinction between martyrs and confessors in the roster of Christian saints.  Martyrs are those who give their lives in a dramatic fashion; confessors live out their faith for a lifetime that ends in sickness or old age.

Crucibles are much on my mind this week. The first reason is of course Jun Lozada, current eye of the storm. I have met him personally only thrice, but have seen his persona unfold in the public arena. Conrad de Quiros had two excellent columns on why he considers him a hero, not because he is without failings, nor because he has been consistently upright and resolute. After all, he has admitted to wrong doings, and has enjoyed employing his skills trying to reconcile (and moderate the greed of) competing vested interests.

But when faced with threats not just to his life, but as he puts it – to his soul, he passsed the test of the crucible. When he was thinking aloud about his dilemmas to a group where I happened to listen in, he reminded me of what I observed about Christians during martial law. “Christians are reluctant revolutionaries, “I said. “We would rather pursue reforms.” We agonize over making radical choices. But once we decide, we are resolute.

Ju Lozada will face more crucibles. How will he pass these tests? Will they  wear him down or even break him, or will they bring out what he himself may not suspect is inside him?

Strange that one of Mao Zedong’s pithy sayings should come to mind. “Be more afraid of sugar-coated bullets.” We know how to duck to avoid being hit by real bullets. Sugar-coated bullets are more dangerous because we do not see them as bullets.

In this same week, another crucible confronted me. My mother who turned 88 last February 7 has been bed-ridden for a while. She is diabetic, and her blood sugar count fluctuates. More worrisome is that her right foot has diabetic gangrene. We have tried all sorts of treatments, from conventional to experimental, to little effect.

I try to spend more quality time with her than I have done through most of my life. Tomorrow, Dr. Oabel here in Lucena will do a “debridement” that will cut away the dead parts of her foot, to reduce the danger of blood poisoning and to give a chance for the healthy tissues to regenerate.

My mother has been a very strong woman through her whole life. She decided not to remarry after being widowed early. She raised her two children to be our own persons, and loved us even when she did not understand us or even strongly disagreed with the life choices we made. She was self-reliant, running a piggery with a small community of families, since she said she couldn’t and didn’t expect her two children to be around.

Now that she is in need of a lot of help, I wonder what goes on in her mind and heart, even as she is given love and care. It is another kind of crucible, for someone who was always strong, able to take care of herself.

When I read the book’s thesis about crucibles, the question I asked (which the authors did not quite answer) is this: Faced with the same crucible, what makes one person cross the boundaries of his/her comfort zone, and another to hesitate or choose the path of least resistance? Faced with the crucible of suffering, what makes one person not just survive with grace but find strength and meaning, as Victor Frankl did, and others to descend into self-pity and despair?

Let’s wish ourselves the grace to recognize the crucibles that come our way, and to  navigate the passages in a way that reveals to us what we hope is inside us, but do not know for certain.

Explore posts in the same categories: Family and Friends, Renewing our spirit, Theology of struggle

2 Comments on “Crucibles”


  1. Ciao! I am trying to find your personal email. Regarding the poem of Marquez, please see the blogs i.e. http://bulongbulongan.blogspot.com

    Interesting read you have in your site.

  2. Chato Says:

    Dear Ed,

    And tears help relieve heavy feelings.

    Our highest respect and salute to a great mother – I was lucky to know through writings about her and through your stories. I’m now trying to find the book from Cristoforo Colombo “No time for Tears” (ba?) that I inherited from Dixie & Francis before they left for the Phils. Nanay Adang’s story was there. There was really no time then….

    Grandi abbracci from Max and from me – & see you in 2 weeks.


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