This Wednesday evening we, the Jewish people, will celebrate Rosh Hashanah. It is the Jewish New Year, and we are ringing in Year 5775. As is customary, I have spent some time over the past few days reflecting on the joys and sadness of the past year.
The year 5774 started out tremendously for me. I was hired on a long term contract in Tokyo, Japan by a very exciting company. Not only was the contract great, I have always had a love for all things Japanese. The opportunity to spend three months in country immersed in the culture was wonderful. Of course, I had also committed to going to Australia to do a Train the Trainer session for a course I had written. It was going to be a great year.
All of that went the way it was supposed to, and then (as planned) I came back to Canada at the end of December. Within days much of the shine would be gone.
It is easy to look at the first half of this year and say ‘If only I had…’ well, there are a lot of things I would have wanted to do differently, but many of them did not happen in 5774. The truth is, my marriage to Theresa had been under a lot of stress for a long time, and the ridiculous amount of travel that I did both hid (from me) and exacerbated Theresa’s unhappiness. When she told me that she did not want to be married to me anymore there are a lot of things I could have (and should have) done differently. If our marriage was indeed salvageable at the beginning of January, I expect that by the beginning of February it no longer was. There is enough blame to spread around, but the bottom line is that Theresa and I stopped living as husband and wife, and I moved into the guest room.
The next few months were among the most difficult and unpleasant of my life. I fell into a depression and was unable to find my next contract. I was forsaken by many of the people and organizations that I had worked hard to help over the past years, and found myself, for the first time in many years, functionally unemployed. Unfortunately as I had been a business owner there was no real government assistance; Theresa and I survived by depleting our savings, and by using up every bit of credit we had. There were a couple of minor contracts, but it was clear that if I did not find gainful employment soon I was going to have to do something drastic. A couple of false starts led to even deeper depression, and I was nearly at my limit.
There are many types of friends in this world; fair weather friends are easy to amass while you are doing well, but when the going gets tough you are more likely to speak to their voice mail than to them. There are takers, who are happy to accept whatever help you are willing to offer, but when you need help they are nowhere to be found. If anyone thinks I did not notice who disappeared from my life this year, I can assure you that I know exactly who is what sort of friend.
My friend Jay is more than just a peer; he is an independent consultant who has over the years helped me to secure a number of important contracts. When he found out I was down on my luck he engaged me to write a course for him. This contract helped me in three distinct ways: a) it gave me something to do so that I could start feeling productive again; b) it reminded me that whoever may have forsaken me, I really am at the level that I have always thought myself to be at; c) it brought in a small but very significant amount of money. Most importantly, it also reminded me that some of my friends – if only just a small handful – are true friends.
It is no secret that I have struggled with my weight since leaving the army; From August of last year to the end of December I was down about 25lbs… not great, but forward progress is better than no progress. Between January and May I gained back nearly every pound I had lost. Frankly it is a miracle that I did not gain more, because I was completely inactive – during a time when physical activity could have helped me to stay focused, I let myself go even further. I am glad that through both eating habit modification (I cannot call what I do a diet) and exercise I am now at my lowest weight in over a year – I have re-lost the weight I had originally lost in Japan and then found in my misery since January. I will continue down the path to smaller pants… slowly and steadily.
I do not know that anyone in my life was more helpful during my worst days than the man I have called my Master since Day One: Dimitrios Beis has not only been my Master and primary Taekwondo instructor and mentor, he has also been a good friend. So as much as I did not want to hear it at the time, his calls every couple of days to say ‘I am going to the gym today to do some Taekwondo… why don’t you join me?’ were very well meaning… and he was right. While I did not go back to the Dojang until June, when I did it helped me immensely from the first class. I have always said that Taekwondo is not just a sport, it is medicine, and it is a way of life. As soon as I got back into it I really started to go… and within weeks Master Godoy asked me to come on as an instructor. That has been an amazing new experience for me… and a humbling one. I do not think the advances in my life during the summer months could have happened had I not gone back to Taekwondo.
So even though I was teaching Taekwondo (on a volunteer basis) I still needed to find a proper job. The great Maimonides said that of all of the levels of charity, the highest is helping someone to become self-sufficient. When I say that Dimitrios was more helpful than anyone else it is because over coffee in late July he told me about an old friend of his who owns a company and who needed some help. Of course, neither Dimitrios nor his friend knew exactly what I do, or exactly what the company needed, but one knew I work in computers and the other knew they needed help with computers. Within days I was introduced to a company with a funny name – Yakidoo. I met with the CTO, and we both realized very quickly that I had the skillset that they needed. Another meeting the following week with the CEO, and after a very difficult eight months I was back at work – and for the first time in nearly a decade it was as an employee, and not as a contractor. As grateful as I am to the people at Yakidoo, I will never forget that one person helped me with the introduction.
Being back at work was more than simply cathartic – and it certainly was that. However on a practical financial level it allowed me to be able to afford to move out of the guest bedroom of my soon to be ex-house and rent a condo that is not too far from either my office or – more importantly – my children. As difficult as it might have been to move out of our family home, the stress levels there since January have been rising, to the point where they were almost unbearable. I moved into the new condo a few weeks ago (with a lot of help from my son Aaron and my friend Daniel) and I now not only have a place to live, I have a place to bring my children. Gilad came over this week-end for his first visit – I needed him to understand that Daddy was not just on another business trip, but he was going to live somewhere else now… and that they (Gilad and Aaron) are always welcome. On his first visit he watched the movie Frozen – the only kid’s DVD I managed to swipe from the house. He had some juice, he had a piece of toast with peanut butter, and he decided that sometimes it would be nice to come over to Daddy’s new house to play and to sleep.
If I had to describe the year that was 5774 with single words or short phrases I would come up with roller-coaster, humbling, and difficult. But we are always told that G-d does not give us challenges more difficult than we can overcome, only challenges more difficult than we think we can overcome. I started the year at the top, I spent much of the middle of it in a downward spiral out of control, and toward the end I have recovered – not to the level I was at, but at a level that I can be comfortable with for now. I have met some wonderful people; I have figured out who some of my ‘so-called’ friends are, and have reaffirmed a few of the true friends. For the second time in my life I have experienced the end of what I thought would be a life-long relationship. I have done some (but not nearly enough) writing, and I have proven to myself that when things seem darkest that, with the help of my true friends, I can again find the light.
With regard to my health I started along a path of being healthier – although it is only in the last few months that I have found my way back onto the path. I hope that a year from now I will be able to report that I have steadily lost a lot of weight, that I earned my 3rd Dan Black Belt, and that I am fitting into a smaller Dobok. I hope to report a productive year work-wise, and that I have finally found the work-life balance that I have always sought. I hope that I will be able to continue to be a better father than I was, and that my children are healthy. And I hope that I will be able to discuss a year of peace and tranquility around the globe. Some of these are realistic; at least one other is not. Let’s hope though that it is a good year… for all of us.
To my Jewish friends, I wish you a Shana Tova, Metuka, uMevurechet. A happy, sweet, and blessed year. May you all be inscribed in the book of life – G’mru chatima tova. And as we always say, Next Year in Jerusalem – LeShana Tova BeYerushalayim.