A sultry night on the city's river-front played softly behind the shimmer of an intimate wedding service this past Sunday, while a small group of close friends and family wondered in the power and magic - the endurance - of love. It was a most monumental occasion in the lives of those who know the story and a long time coming.
My old boss is a complicated man. He's an immigrant to the U.S., the youngest of two sons of Jewish parents, separated by 10 years from his older brother. A fair helping of triumphs and tragedies took him from humble beginnings in Chicago all the way to a big-shot job with a fancy law firm in the city when I met him some (mumble, cough, 23) years ago. At the time, I was an obnoxious, big-haired, smoking 19-year-old with a nice sized chip on my shoulder. (No wisecracks please.)
We clicked right away. And when I say clicked I mean he could not believe he hired me and I couldn't figure out how to argue with him enough. At a point, and I'm pretty sure just to make me mad, he made my 'desk' the same table as the one that held the photocopier. I would answer phones and take messages while my notebook shifted slowly left and then clicked right with the motion of the copier pad. I never said a word, which I think irritated him to no end and eventually I got my own desk. Years later, I got a coveted window office when we moved to new space. We were both worried that other employees might be a bit miffed that I was getting such a prized space, so I agreed to take the larger office with the huge post in the middle as a compromise. Having had a photocopier table as a desk makes a person really appreciate any stable workspace. An important lesson, well learned.
(In a fun little twist of fate, I managed to sit myself behind a huge post at his wedding, so I had a broad smile on my face with more than one meaning as I enjoyed the event!)
During the years that we worked together, we learned quite a bit from and about one another. I'm not sure either of us has or ever will acknowledge how much. I was with him during so many long days and nights when he worked himself to exhaustion only to bear the unbearable degradation of ungrateful and merciless corporate clients. I was with him when no matter what numbers he produced, the numbers were never enough to feel some rest, never enough to feel finished with chasing numbers. I was with him when he juggled his obligations to work, children, wife, mother, brother and - with very little room left - himself. Often, that juggling act left too many important players unattended, or at least feeling so - though rarely work, and never, ever if he could help it, children. I was with him when he learned - grudgingly - that he would have to trust others in order to take himself beyond what he could touch, to what he could influence. That was a terribly difficult step and he required quite a bit of reassurance. For whatever reason, on many the occasion, I believe I was the needed steadying presence.
Just as I was there for him, he was there for me. He was there, to gently - some times very harshly - but always with the intention of teaching - correct me. He was there to give me a chance, when it was absolutely ludicrous to do so, because he believed in me. He was there when I met my husband, to give him the once-over before he gave his seal of approval. And he was there to tell me with full sincerity that he was glad when I announced that I was having twins and would have to leave the office.
If all that - all the memories, lunches, trips, crossword puzzles, and conference calls in between are not enough - there is also this. My boss taught me (and along the way himself) one of life's greatest lessons: why work matters.
I had always had a good work ethic; he and I share the same value system about this from our respective immigrant roots. But while I worked very hard, long hours, I always knew that the work and the money didn't mean much to me if I didn't have my family, my loves, my time at peace with myself. I think he didn't have this all figured out when he started. He was consumed for a time with the competitive nature of his work, with the ticking in his head of a clock he was racing, and to what end I'm not sure he quite knew all along. And he was terribly lonely, though he would never tell you that openly, and I think he felt bad for it given that he was married and had a warm, loving family and small group of friends.
We worked together for over thirteen years. Watching him grow in this sadness, watching him allow so much of his young life to crumble away while he worked himself so desperately was not an easy thing. And it made me ever so much more impatient for my life to be different. Of course, I wasn't quiet about it. I pushed him, nudged and nagged him, ordered him at times, to go 'get a life'! It was a long time coming, but with many signs and blessings along the way, he did.
So while many of the things that helped him achieve his success did not survive the trip, thankfully he did, and his children did - quite beautifully - and so did our friendship. He works now, but on his own terms, doing something he enjoys and far away from the hectic and hurry of the days we shared. He shares time with his lovely, talented girls and recently added a son-in-law to his family with much joy and celebration. I do hope that in some part, I was an influence in making this happen, but really, so much of it belongs to his new wife. On Sunday, I saw him wed his companion of the past ten years, a woman who simply radiates goodness and love for him. Their courtship has been a slow bloom, tentative at first, sweet, so down-to-earth and real. They are as natural together as sun and sky. That she has opened him up and made him really feel life - experience it with all the senses, even when its uncomfortable - is clear, and a joy to see. That he has given her the security, the steadiness and strength of a person who really gets it now is an equal pleasure. It was a long time coming, and not a straight-line path, but my boss found his way, and I'm so glad. Nothing but love could have made it happen.
And so it came to be that a sultry night on the city's river-front played softly behind the shimmer of an intimate wedding service this past Sunday, while a small group of close friends and family wondered in the power and magic - the endurance - of love.