Wednesday, 31 December 2008

End of the Year's Message

2008 augured well. I was still working in the arts and my family and I had a holiday planned for Malaysia around Easter time; we were going to visit one of my brothers-in-law who had made that Asian country his permanent residence. We were all looking forward to this well-deserved break.

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.

Copyright 2008

38 comments:

  1. I'm glad you were able to come out of your experience as a victor.

    In the version of the rock, pebble, sand story I heard, the professor ended his demonstration by filling the jar with a fourth substance: water.

    May your 2009 be as full and rich as Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy'.

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  2. London, I am glad your family stood by you, that makes everything worthy. And sometimes we need the challenges so we can appreciate what comes next.

    Happy New Year!

    y mucha felicidad.

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  3. That was a beautiful and inspirational post. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. What a touching and lovely post--an excellent way to end this turbulent year and move forward into the next. Congratulations on finding your new job--I hope it will be a joyful move for you. Happiest of New Years to you and your family and thank you for many kind comments on my blog this past year! thanks for sharing that story--moving...

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  5. Chico me haces llorar. Yo consegui trabajo al final de este ano despues de aplicar a tantos lugares. Lo que no sabia, es que una de mis recomendaciones le estaba diciendo mentiras a los lugares que yo aplicaba. Me senti bien mal al no poder conseguir trabajo por tanto tiempo. Estaba desesperada, asta que una de las personas, a uno de los lugares que aplique, me dijo lo que estaba pasando. Esa persona tomo un riesgo y no creiyo esa mala referencia y me dio el beneficio de la duda. Empieso el Lunes.

    Durante toda esta odisea, mi familia y mis amigos estubieron dandome animo. Me alegro que tienes trabajo y una familia tan linda. Tu igual que yo, somos muy afortunados. Somos rico mi amigo.

    Happy New Year!

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  6. Tremenda historia! Me dolio la parte en la que lloras en en subway. I've been there (almost) I have no family to support, so it's not the same thing. Or is it? The way you describe it... sounds so familiar. The pain, that uncertainty, the agony... they have been constant companions of mine since the beginning of this journey. Pero de todo sale uno. Que ser cubano es pertenecer al Club de los Eternos Sobrevivientes.
    Oye, yo te llegue a contar la anecdota que Subiela me conto a mi?? Creo que te la mande por e-mail, pero no la encuentro por ningun lado.
    "Hombre mirando al sudeste" es una de mis peliculas favoritas de todos los tiempos. Casualmente ese fue mi unico regalo (material) de Navidad este anho. Me lo regalo un amigo que ha pasado una buena parte de su vida metido en manicomios, y sin embargo es una de las personas mas cuerdas que he conocida en toda mi vida.
    Un beso grande por fin de anho.
    Tu estas bien. Todos estamos bien. Mejor de lo que pensamos. De verdad que si.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your story of hope and victory with us. Thank you also for adding beautiful music, perfectly paired playlists and meals, and food for thought throughout the year. Thank you also for your support and encouraging words on my blog.

    Happy New Year!

    P.S. I remember seeing "Man Facing Southeast" when it first came out. You chose a great scene.

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  8. Chelsea Boy, esto es de parte de la gente de Alamar:
    http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&VideoID=34131465

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  9. y esto tambien:
    http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=1033619

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  10. Cette année tu as rencontré "la vie scélérate". As-tu lu le roman de Maryse Condé? A Dios rogando y con el maso dando. Oye cubanito, te deseo todo lo mejor a ti y a tu familia para el año nuevo.
    --Curmudgeon

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  11. "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" - this is one thing i'll have to take time in considering. a very thoughtful post. is it okay if i share that professor story on my myspace? i'd like some folks to read it. happy new year to you and your family. you are so much stronger from the struggles you've all endured.

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  12. Where do I start thanking you for this post? The rock story, which I needed so much to hear again? The honesty in sharing your own pain, which reminds me to look on others with compassion? The movie scene, which has tears streaking my cheeks? Not sure where to start, but oh - thank you. Thank you.

    Happy new year.

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  13. You are truly inspirational, my friend. I'm on the dole right now, so I know exactly what you mean. But the rocks are there for me, thanks goodness, so the rest will come, sooner or later (the sooner the better, of course). Happy 2009 to you and your wonderful Rocks!

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  14. Thank you for sharing your story, your pain, and your triumph. I am happy for your new employer that they brought you aboard -- you undoubtedly bring a deep wisdom to all your pursuits.

    Happy New Year!

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  15. Happy New Year to you and your family... London can be brutal and ruthless...so glad you made it out the other side..

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  16. Thank you all for being such good bloggy-friends.

    Happy New Year!

    Greetings from London.

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  17. Ah bummer, I got up to the part where he holds hands with them as the music begins but then the player wouldn't load the rest of the video.

    A very well put end of year reflection, Cuban. Lovely words, lovely thoughts.
    I love how you describe the colours trading for despair and then this part later:

    " 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."

    --Beautiful.

    Happy New Year to yo again.

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  18. Thanks, Mmm. Happy New Year to you too.

    Greetings from London.

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  19. feliz año!!!! que sí, el 2009 va a ser un año increible... mucho mejor que el 2008 y por supuesto muchísimo mejor que el 2007 que fue un año horrible... :-)

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  20. Cuban, qué bello post este tuyo, experiencias personales, anécdota del profesor y video de una de las películas que más me ha gustado hasta ahora incluidas.
    Mis mejores deseos para este 2009, y que a tu familia y a ti no los abandone la constancia y la fe.
    Un abrazo,
    AB

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  21. Muchas gracias a ambos. Les deso lo mismo.

    Saludos desde Londres.

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  22. Gracias por el mensaje, por el video y por tu relato. Tantas veces no nos damos cuenta de las piedras y solo le damos importancia a la arena que nos rodea. Te deseo mucha felicidad en este 2009 y cuida mucho a tus piedras,

    Gracias por tu blog,
    Lena

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  23. Gracias, lena, te deseo lo mismo a ti y a tu familia.

    Saludos desde Londres.

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  24. Ciao Cuban,

    ho letto il tuo post con molta attenzione e interesse.
    Sai cosa penso? Un uomo che parla cosi delle sue emozioni, che ammette di aver versato lacrime, si, questo a me dimostra che quel uomo e´ un uomo molto coraggioso con un grandissimo cuore! In questo caso, tu!!!!

    Un post davvero emozionante!

    Buon anno Cuban, a te e famiglia, e che le cose per voi vadano al meglio quest'anno e tutti gli altri anni che verranno in futuro.

    Un saluto da Colonia,

    Salva

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  25. Buon anno, salva para ti y para tu familia, también. Muchas gracias.

    Saludos desde Londres.

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  26. Un abrazo grande compadre.
    Que bien escrito esto. Como me gusta descargar aquí.
    En Miami 'la cosa malIsima' para los 'entrepreneur' cada día trato de lidiar con la depre, que me da ver como lo que he construido en 8 anos se va a volina..., cada día tengo que apretar el kuku y darle a los pedales para no cerrar una pequeña oficina a la que ya nadie puede o quiere tocar. NO HAY DINERO!
    Pierdo, pierdo, pierdo, no entra nada a fin de mes, pero en medio de esto, he descubierto que la gente que me quiere, me quiere bien y los que no pues se apartan.
    Me cuadra mucho eso que hablas en el post. Por mi parte trato de hacer lo mejor que puedo cada día y ante los deseos de desesperarme, intento vivir con ecuanimidad.

    Un abrazo con todo mi yunta,
    tony.

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  27. Wishing you a wonderful 2009. So glad to hear that you have a beautiful family and you made it through a tough spot. Carla

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  28. Gracias, asere. Thanks carla.

    Saludos desde Londres. Greetings from London.

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  29. so sorry to come here late ! (i was on and off blogging these last days)

    I read your post with a knot in my throat..
    I have to say it is one of my favorite posts because it tells your determination in spite of moments of despair and also the strength of your wife and children's support.

    I wish you a very happy New Year to you and your loved ones and a fantastic trip to Asia in the near future!

    un abrazo

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  30. Thanks, my castle. We'll be going back to Malaysia in 2010, I hope. We loved the country when we were there last year and would love to go back. Happy New Year to you, too!

    Greetings from London.

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  31. yes, your story is amazingly helpful as is the tale of the professor- I will share it with friends and family via your blog. As a pediatrician from the USA who lives in France with my french husband and children after confronting healthcare obstacles- I can say hoorah for the perspective of putting things into order of importance and the power of shared hope! Thanks again and yes, I am a doc who loves to dance and design-with joy !
    http://dancingdocdesign.blogspot.com/

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  32. Thanks, dancing for your kind words.

    Greetings from London.

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  33. i'm so glad to have come across your blog in the previous year. posts like these and so many others by you always inspire me or make me think.

    happy 2009!

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  34. Thanks, fly, I, too, am glad to have come across your blog and enjoy the result of your designs. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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  35. ACIL, how scary to lose your job! I’m glad you came through it with the help of your family. I’m having a similar experience trying to break into publishing in a terrible market, and it really helps having a supportive spouse.

    I think we too often hear about the instant success stories and not of the hard work and failures that come before most success stories. So much of it is luck, and it certainly helps to have loved ones to see you through it. Thanks for sharing.

    How funny - the word verification was "bless."

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  36. How odd, about the word verification I mean :-). Thanks for your kind comment.

    Greetings from London.

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  37. The video was wonderful and what could be better than ode to joy at 8:18 in the morning. Nothing probably.

    I love this post for the reality of it all.

    My husband and I have been in the same position and even though you know it is the economy sometimes it is hard not to take it personal.

    Wahid was laid off for two years and I worked two jobs, but we did it. Because our jar was filled with rocks first.

    Love Renee xoxo

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  38. Many thanks, Renee, for your kind words.

    Greetings from London.

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