As the months passed by my company's financial situation became worrying. It had been so for some time up until then but there was no reason to suspect that we would lose our jobs. Unfortunately life sometimes deals one a very bad hand and the self-defence mechanism that we think we have in place to shelter us from this kind of adversity ends up tumbling down like sandcastles in a storm.
By summer 2008 I had been made redundant for the first time in my life. I felt numb and powerless. Although I had been given a month's notice it was not until I started gathering my personal belongings that it suddenly dawned on me that I was going, going from the place where I had worked for five years, going from the comfort of a permanent job, paid holidays and sick time. Going, going... gone.
What happened thereafter can only be described as a maelstrom of feelings and emotions. Anger became angst, hope traded colours with despair. I tried to remain strong, but even I could not fool myself: inside I was breaking slowly.
However, even as I was staring down the abyss, my family stood by me. My wife helped me out with application forms and as a result I had countless job interviews. Still, no offer was forthcoming. One day, on my way to yet another interview, I began to sob quietly and calmly on the tube. Two tears streaked down my cheeks whilst I was reading the paper. I realised then that I was probably on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
I finally landed a job at the end of July, just in time to go camping with my family as we usually do every summer. And throughout my whole ordeal a series of words kept popping up like a Jack-in-the-box: family, values, self-confidence, respect, trust, optimism.
That was what enabled me to get my current job. That strong infrastructure that my wife and I have built over the years propelled us to overcome what can be a very testing period for any couple. And we all (the children included) came out the other side as victors.
A couple of months into my new job I found a sheet of paper Blu-tacked to a cleaning cupboard (despite having been in my present employment for four months now, I still come upon 'surprises' every now and then) that contained the words below. I had seen them before on the net; countless versions abound. But never had they acquired such a strong meaning as on that occasion and I am not ashamed to write that they brought a tear to my eye.
A philosophy professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The students laughed.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes."
"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things-your family, your children, your health, your partner-things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else-the small stuff.”
"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner.
There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the disposal.
Take care of the rocks first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."This is my message to you on this, the final day of 2008. I also would like to finish this post with a clip from a movie I didn't like the first time I saw it (It's in Spanish, but fret not, my dear English-speaking fellow bloggers and readers, there are subtitles). My younger self was not able to understand the theory behind it. It was only a few years after, in the early to mid 90s, when Cuba was engulfed in an economic crisis, that I sat to watch this film again, this time with my best friend. And as the credits began to roll up at the end of the movie, we both hugged each other in silence. I had finally understood Rantes' plight. 'Hombre Mirando al Sudeste' (Man Facing Southeast)* became my 'comfort film', my way of making sense of the chaos and corruption around me. The scene I bring to you tonight is one of pure jubilence and elation, no wonder they chose Beethoven's Ninth Symphony 'Ode to Joy' to accompany it. Enjoy it and Happy New Year!
* There have been two Hollywood versions of 'Hombre Mirando al Sudeste' (Man Facing Southeast), one with Richard Gere (Mr Jones) and the other one with Kevin Spacey (K-Pax). Neither measures up to the original, in my opinion.