We live in very scary economic times. Many people have lost their jobs and are having difficulty finding other ones. This is causing families to lose their homes, unless they can find new means of making money in order to pay their mortgages. Retooling and leaving professions or jobs is difficult for everyone. Well spouses and the working chronically ill have less flexibility than most, as they are limited by their illness or the care-giving responsibilities.
Despite anti-discrimination laws, most employers will find a reason for not hiring the chronically ill or the caregiver; worrying about excessive absenteeism and fearing dealing with an illness they don’t understand. Psychologically it is very difficult for everyone whether limited by family illness or not, to search for a job after years of being in another profession. It challenges your sense of self, your ego, your resilience and can be one of the scariest things you’ve done in decades. But focusing on supporting your family and making those difficult changes even if it means a very different way of earning a living has, to my mind, made heroes out of many. I’d like to tell you about some heroes I have met (*names changed).
Yossi* had been a carpenter for years. But as his MS progressed so did his loss of equilibrium. He could no longer keep his balance when working on bridges and buildings. Working with power tools was becoming dangerous as well. He had no choice but to leave the profession he loved and had trained for years. Going on Government disability was an option but the reduction to his family income would have been so great they would probably have lost their home and barely gotten by, even with his wife taking a second job.
It took months of rejection but finally Yossi got a job as a Teacher’s assistant in a class for mentally challenged teens. As the disease was beginning to affect his memory, Yossi began carrying a notepad with him to write down everything the teacher asked of him. As the weeks progressed so did the disease, but Yossi was determined to hold on to his job.
With each advancing deficit to his brain and body, he was determined to find ways to get around it and not let it affect his job performance. Yossi still has his job. He lives in fear ever day that his disease will progress to the point that he will no longer be able to compensate for what he is losing and will be dismissed. He showed me the many notepads he had filled in order not to forget the teacher’s instructions. During the workday, he consults his notes several times an hour. It is tedious and it is depressing but Yossi is determined to keep this job and do it well. To date, he has done an exemplary job. I see him as a hero.
Nathan* was a Pulpit Rabbi. He loved his shul and loved everything involved with being a Rabbi. But recently, his shul had to close their doors. The neighborhood had changed, people had left the community and the lack of funds finally took its toll. Nathan found himself jobless after almost 20 years. While looking for a new job he advertised in the local papers and did funerals and unveilings and for anything else he was qualified, in order to support his family.
Undeterred and determined, Nathan was finally able to get a job as a teacher in a new experimental program for difficult children. He accepted the position and went about it with the same enthusiasm he had when he was in the pulpit. However, after a year the program lost its funding and Nathan was jobless once again.
Nathan never felt that any job was beneath him. He is now a “shadow” for a severely handicapped child. He has gone from Pulpit Rabbi to changing diapers on a teen in two short years, But Nathan told me how grateful he is to be employed and still provide for his family. Always smiling when he talks about this “sweet kid” he is helping, he is ever enthusiastic about his work. To me, Nathan is a hero.
It is so difficult to reinvent yourself. Yet these heroes have not only willingly entered this new phase in their life because they put the needs of their family over their own needs, but they have done so in good spirits and with an open heart and mind. Perhaps their attitude is somewhat responsible for their success.
More stories of modern day heroes next week.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org