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My Life as a Country Western Song

My Life as a Country Western Song

I lost my parents, my house and job, and my wife left me after 25 years. Why was God doing this to me?

by

I had just started my consulting assignment at Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood, California. By outward appearances it appeared that I had life firmly in hand. I pulled my British, racing green Jaguar through the fabled arch gates of the oldest movie studio in the world, found my temporary parking space (isn’t everything?) and walked to my new office. But my life was in turmoil and the Paramount lot was a fitting place to be – it was filled with faux edifices and shallow, ephemeral experiences with sets built in the morning and struck down by nightfall.

Ryan, a colleague, took me to lunch on my first day and the conversation turned to the obligatory “So what’s your story Mike?” I live by my late father’s fabled line, “I sleep well because I hide behind the truth” and I began to honestly summarize the vicissitudes of my life. I told Ryan that I was mad at God after going through what felt like a compound fracture. In the last 48 months I had lost my father (my hero), my mother, my beloved English setter, was ‘reorganized’ out of my senior position at another fabled studio after four dedicated years, lost my home in the housing crisis, and my wife – the love of my life – left me after 25 years. It was nothing short of soul-crushing.

Ryan looked at me with compassion in his eyes and said, “Gee, Mike – your life is like a walking Country western ballad.” You know the ones penned by Cash, Nelson or Jones, with lyrics like: my dog died today, my truck won’t start, and my gal just ran off with another cowboy – only it was my life here.

I began to doubt if God was in my corner.

I began to seriously doubt if God was in my corner. I felt I didn’t deserve this relentless onslaught of heartache, loss and pain. I had lived my life as a good Jew, a good husband, father, son, son-in-law and uncle. My trust in the Almighty was severely shaken and my belief in his unconditional love came into question. What did I do to deserve this? Didn’t God realize that I was endeavoring to live a meaningful life filled with performing mitzvahs, giving charity, bringing my daughters to the Torah, and trying to perform Tikkum Olam, doing my part to fix the world whenever I had the opportunity, however small and seemingly insignificant?

I was grappling with one of Judaism’s oldest conundrums: “Why did seemingly bad things happen to good people and the arrogant, evil person thrives?”

Jewish Exploration

I needed answers. I needed someone I could relate to, who wouldn’t judge me. In fact, I was bolstered by the words of a friend, a newcomer to traditional Judaism, who said to me, “It doesn’t matter what rung of the Jewish learning ladder you’re on, it only matters that you’re on the ladder.”

I was raised as a Conservative Jew. We raised our children mostly in a Reform temple. But I needed some high octane fuel at this intersection in my life.

I had a light bulb moment. I remembered Marc, a friend of a dear friend of mine who used to hang out at the beach with us and listen to Crosby, Stills and Nash. He had become a religious Jew, strictly observant. This is what I needed. Some guidance and inspiration from a peer, and someone I could relate to (and who understood that Neil Young added a layer of nuance and complexity to the trio).

Related Article: From Song to Song

I called Marc after many years, gave him a short de-briefing, and asked if we could meet to get his perspective. “Let’s meet at Coffee Bean, it’s kosher.”

And thus began my deeper dive into Torah.

Intellectually I believed in God, but I didn’t genuinely trust Him.

I began to learn more about Judaism, inside the texts, and I began to pray more deeply. I delved into the concept of Bitachon – unshakable faith in God, even in the face of adversity. I discovered that I had succeeded in attaining Emunah – an intellectual understanding that God exists, but the crucial element was getting Bitachon – genuine trust in God. Even Moses struggled with Bitachon, so I felt I was in good company. I needed to struggle to see the blessing in the hardships.

God wanted my attention – and I learned He has His ways of getting our attention. I now feel that I have become closer to God than ever before. And that everything that happens, even the seemingly soul-crushing experiences in life, are for the ultimate good: To get closer to God and to know that He loves us more than we can ever possibly imagine.

Gaining Clarity

I previously thought that if God really cared about me, my life would be stress-free, without challenges; certainly not filled with relentlessly numbing personal and professional loss.

When I reflect on all that transpired, I can now see that God actually had my back in myriad ways throughout the struggle. He brought me even closer to my cherished daughters who taught me the power of unconditional love and loyalty. My hardships crystalized for me the meaning of genuine friendship and illuminated for me the difference between the "wheat and the chaff," what is really important in my life.

It gave me, in a word, clarity. The clarity to recognize the difference between those who are there for you when the proverbial chips are down, and the ones who are only there when you're good company. I learned who my friends really were and witnessed the beauty in people (some brand new to my life as a suddenly single man) who reminded me that compassion can come from corners you didn’t even know existed.

I also learned that in life's harshest moments the opportunity for expanded self-awareness and personal growth is exponential. I felt as if I took my soul in for service and got it re-calibrated.

But perhaps the most important benefit that came out of this struggle was a firm renewal of my personal covenant with God, which had become something I took for granted. I became more diligent in my Sabbath observation, my Torah study, and my level of gratitude. And with more Torah study comes more wisdom and more spiritual growth. And with more selflessness comes a deeper contentment and a richer understanding of life.

Now that the tsunami waves have subsided and I can finally pick the seaweed out of my ears and the rub the saltwater from my eyes (in more ways than one), I can see that God has my back. He certainly has my attention. What I thought was a God who was ignoring me was in reality a God who wasn’t going to stop until He got my attention, just like a good father who loves his child more than anyone and will stop at nothing to get his point across.

My late father used to say, “Son, kites can’t fly very high without a heavy head wind.” I am flying a bit higher these days.

Published: June 2, 2012


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Visitor Comments: 20

(15) Phil, June 28, 2012 7:28 PM

inspiring

simply put, amazing. I am a young baal tshuva, and the eloquence with which you write is an inspiration, Im very good friends with your daughters and seeing the love and joy the way they talk about you already speaks to what a mensch you are, this article is an inspiration and I plan to share it with the guys at my yeshiva. May your life be filled with brachas, joy, learning and the knowledge that your inspiring words have a real impact on me and mertz hashem many others.

(14) Sarah Esther, June 11, 2012 5:15 PM

What an amazing article. I can relate to all of those feelings. Just remember, everything is a discrete, temporary story. Your next chapter will be amazing; I know it.

(13) izzy, June 5, 2012 2:07 PM

Thanks

very meaningful article

(12) Marianne Little, June 5, 2012 5:40 AM

Some times it takes our lives becoming sad songs to renew our joy

Bravo for your article. My story is similar. A little over 4 years ago, my life seemed to spiral out of control. My father died. Then my husband of 30 years died without any warning, followed by my mother; and the worst blow was the death of my youngest daughter. It got worse as all my cornerstones were gone but one and soon he was taken by cancer. The past almost 4 years have been most challenging. That is an understatement. However Hashem is merciful to those who truly seek Him! My life will never again be complacent. My time is spent studying the Torah and the other writings of our faith. I have known I had Orthodox Jewish roots but could never prove it until recently. I was not raised as a Jew but as a Christian. However Hashem put a person into my life who attends Shabbat services at the home of our Rabbi and he introduced me to this small group. I usually can not attend but they made it possible to attend via Skype. Much of the Torah was already written on the tablets of my heart as my grandmother was a true scholar! She taught me that much of what I had been taught as a Christian was not the whole picture. She knew that she and my grandfather both had Orthodox Jewish bloodlines but there was not a shul, synagogue etc anywhere their rural location. However as I began to pour my time, energies and spirit into my own spiritual journey, Hashem has proven to me once again that though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, He is always there. Recently I proved my Orthodox Jewish roots and just a week ago discovered another about 20 lines on both sides of my family. Fortunately there are wonderful transliterations as my Hebrew is not up to speed but I am so blessed to have found great favor among true believers who are more than willing to teach me! That I have a deep understanding already just makes it easier to comprehend the rest! Thank you for your words as they express your rising from the ashes and into HaShem's Glorious Wings of Joy!

Jewish Mom, June 6, 2012 10:01 AM

You are an inspiration!

Yes, your stories are similar and both of you are inspirations, finding your way closer to HaShem after such trials. Jewish sources discuss this as being the purpose of trials - not as punishment or revenge, but rather as impetus for growth. Both of you have passed these tests with flying colors to your great benefit and to the benefit of the entire Jewish Nation. Keeping going and keep growing!

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