George, my former boss, was in the habit of giving the book, “A Message to Garcia”, to his new staff members by way of orientation.  Written by Elbert Hubbard in 1899 in a, “single hour after dinner”, this slim volume (12 pages—16 if you count the illustrations) became a viral sensation worldwide in its own fashion a century ago.

Based on true events during the Spanish-American War, the story concerns the delivery of crucial, strategic instructions to General Garcia deep in the Cuban jungle.  A soldier named Rowan was assigned this task.  We learn that Rowan accepted the written message, made his way to Cuba, obtained expert guides, journeyed inland, and returned safely.  Later, Rowan was awarded a medal for completing this task which turned out to be a turning point in the war.

Rather than an adventure tale, “A Message to Garcia” focused on the character of the messenger, Rowan.  He accepted a responsibility, with no ifs, ands or buts, and successfully carried it out efficiently to the best of his ability.  He wasted no time asking, “Why?”, or, “What’s in it for me?”  One could see how any boss might utilize this book as a template to guide a youthful employee.

After receiving my copy of A Message to Garcia” from George at age 28, I dutifully read it, comprehended its metaphorical message between employer and employee, and shelved it.  Over the ensuing years of my working life, I may have had some “Rowan moments” and most likely missed a host of other opportunities.

Midway through life, I had occasion to pick up “Garcia” once again, this time with a different perspective.  Established in my career, I reveled in those Rowan-like characters who responded to and accepted the guidance I had to offer.  Whether we are doctors, lawyers, clergy, teachers, therapists, parents or other guides, we experience a full measure of gratitude when those rare individuals we endeavor to help actually accept and apply the gifts we offer.  I could now appreciate the theme of “Garcia” from George’s perspective so many years before.

I re-read “A Message to Garcia” this summer following the death of my boss, mentor, teacher and friend, George, at age 92.  I was struck by a concluding sentence by Hubbard:

“My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the ‘boss’ is away, as well as when he is at home.” 

In a spiritual sense, our work is that of becoming compassionate human beings.  Our “boss”, human or transcendental, offers messages constantly and in many forms showing us the way to achieve our life’s work.  Rowan gives us the ideal of how we might accept our human task with respect, diligence, and kindness.  Ultimately, our “boss” resides within.   

You are away, George, but not too far……………

 – Betsy Schussler