By Andrew Malekoff
In the past few years, I decided to make room for new leadership in two of the long-term roles I have held for decades. One was as CEO of a nonprofit children’s mental health agency and the other was as editor-in-chief for a human services publication with an international reach.
Having one foot in direct practice on the front lines of mental health care and the other in the world of academia was a fortuitous combination, a perpetual interaction of learning and honing leadership skills.
The editor position that I have assumed for decades is for a quarterly publication that is called “Social Work with Groups, a journal of community and clinical practice.” It has been in print since 1978. I recently announced that I am retiring from that role at the end of 2023, which leads me back to an unusual story.
Have you heard of godwinks? A godwink is an experience where you might say, “What are the chances of that! It’s been described by some as a spiritual message of reassurance, especially in times of uncertainty. Some say it represents restored faith during difficult times. Others see it as divine intervention. And still others as pure coincidence.
Although I was not familiar with the term, it reminded me of something that I thought was astonishing.
In 2005 I lost a very good friend and colleague. Her name was Roselle. We had become business partners in 1990 when the founding editors of the aforementioned publication decided to step down. They asked the two of us, strangers at the time, to become their successors. So, my role as editor began with a partner. Roselle and I became co-editors.
Roselle was a university educator and I was a frontline practitioner. We were at first wary of one another. What we had in common was that we were social workers and published authors.
After a relatively short period of unease, we not only became great collaborators but fast friends. The relationship ended in June of 2005 when I received a call that Roselle had died. It was sudden, unexpected and heartbreaking.
About six months later in December 2005, I was invited to a meeting scheduled in Manhattan that involved planning a tribute to Roselle. Normally, I would have just taken the LIRR in the morning of our meeting. As luck would have it there was a transit strike. I decided to play it safe, travel the night before when the trains were still running, and stay over in a cheap hotel.
That night I stopped in Kennedy’s, a Lower West Side tavern, for a glass of wine. Sitting at the end of the bar was my cousin, Amy, whom I had not seen in many years. Unbeknownst to me, she lived just across the street. She was a real estate broker. It was great catching up with her. The unexpected encounter rekindled our relationship. I only mentioned in passing why I was in Manhattan.
Several months later I was back in Manhattan on a personal matter. I called Amy to see if she was free for lunch. We got together and she asked me why I was in town. I told her I had to run over to Hunter College School of Social Work to take care of some business regarding a friend and business partner who had recently died.
She seemed more than curious when I said “Hunter College” and asked me, “What was her name?” I said, “Roselle Kurland.” Amy gasped and said, “Oh my God, I just sold her apartment!” She then opened her phone to photos from inside the apartment, where I had been before.
Is this a godwink? Is it a tangible signpost giving me hope and faith that someone is watching over me? Or, is it pure coincidence? I choose to think that it was more than coincidence. During these uncertain times, a source of faith, however unusual, is a welcome reminder that we are not alone and that there is hope.