Once Upon a Time I was also a Businessman

Friday 30 July 2010: 3 years 10 months on…

Let’s put the record straight. I only worked as a schoolteacher for five years.

And then, in 1989, I left the profession, as they say, and went into the lucrative big, wide world of business – the retail world to be precise.

In total, I worked there for almost three times longer than I taught. But, I was always referred to as the schoolteacher. Even this week, there was a report in the local newspaper, The Apple Express, about me. As newspaper reports go, it bent the truth just a little bit in order to make it a bit juicier to read. And, in typical newspaper sensationalism, it was headlined Rare Illness turns Teacher into Blogger.

Once a schoolteacher, always a schoolteacher, I suppose.

Despite the shortness of the teaching years, it’s amazing at how many good memories have resulted from them, and how gratifying and rewarding those times were (especially now when meeting and interacting with ex-pupils). I even experienced the hospitality of ex-pupils when almost two years ago now, in November 2008, I was treated by them to tour the UK and watch the Springboks play in their year-end tour of Wales, Scotland and England.

Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

But, as lucrative as the business world may appear to be, it is just as ruthless and unrelenting.

In 1994, I was appointed as a senior manager (ironically at a glittering function in the Grey High School hall). In 1998, I received the General Manager’s special Award.

But, from Hero to Zero.

In March 2002, in a flash like a lightning bolt from Heaven, I and some other senior managers were suspended from work. In a bizarre, contrived set of circumstances surrounding a case of alleged sexual harassment, we were subjected to a six-month long disciplinary hearing, fired from our positions, and then given large sums of money in return for our souls, our silence, the withdrawal of charges and our resignations.

Should I apply for a job with you today, I would give you a letter of recommendation in which it is regretted that I resigned to further my own personal business career.

Well, that I did and went out on my own, firstly as a private consultant, and then in November 2005, together with a partner, opened our own private consulting company.

Barely a year later I became ill and retired. Ironically, just a few days after I was diagnosed with terminal CBD, I received a basket of fruit from my previous Board of Directors and a note wishing me a speedy recovery!

The above three paragraphs are but a summary of the most stressful and the saddest period in my life. I started writing a book to document those years – unfortunately the document was lost on the laptop that was the only item stolen in a home burglary shortly thereafter. Maybe, someday, I will put pen to paper (rather finger to keyboard!) again?

I was propped up through those days by so many friends and acquaintances, but especially by my wife Pera. I will always be so grateful to her for her unfailing support that helped to carry me through those darkest days.

But there’s the old cliché that every dark cloud has that proverbial silver lining.

We got some five years in which we were moulded together as a family to prepare us for the devastating news that was to come – when I was diagnosed with CBD.

We got to spend time together as a family again. We got to holiday together. I got to spend Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays watching our boys play rugby and cricket. I got to see them grow up in front of me into the wonderful 6-foot plus men that they are today. We are so blessed.

We had been fired in the ovens of hell to prepare us for this next challenge that faces us now. The human spirit prevailed then, and it will now.

In this last week, I have had three shocks. The first shock was when I, for the first time, got to hear myself on Ed is in Wed – the chat show that Lance du Plessis and I have on Algoa FM since March of this year. I have been so well and truly humbled by the response that we have received to those chats, but have never heard one myself.

Thanks to modern technology, those recordings – called podcasts – are now available on this blog site and so I got to hear myself!

The radio programme had its beginnings in a note that I published on Facebook to update my friends on my condition. It set in motion a series of events that eventually made Facebook unsuitable for the readership that my notes were receiving. I turned to WordPress – a blogging site. 

Earlier this year, I had read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom (also a movie starring Jack Lemmon and televised twice this week on DSTV). Morrie had ALS, a condition similar to mine, and was interviewed on ABC Television by Ted Koppel.

I spoke to Lance, another ex-pupil of mine, and a radio announcer at AlgoaFM and suggested that we could consider doing a chat show where people could learn from my experiences. Management at the radio station were open to the idea, and I am so grateful to them, and to Lance, for advancing the cause of CBD and illness and living and dying. What started off as a once-off has now been going for five months!

Four years ago, when I became ill, I did not know of anyone who was familiar with the condition CBD. Today, as I write this note, and thanks to the internet and AlgoaFM, the number of hits on the blog site has exceeded the 6000 mark – all of them now aware of the illness!

The second shock that I had was, tonight, when I received a note in my email inbox from an ex-boss of mine who had heard me on radio and was wishing me well on my journey. It is the first direct contact that I have received from a senior person since that fateful day, eight years ago, when we had the carpet pulled out from under our feet! It brought back a flood of memories and a flood of tears.

And the third shock – I have just heard that Lance had his house ransacked, looted and cleared out whilst we were on air yesterday!

I have said before that I often use the word ironically. However, I have come to believe that there is no such thing as ironically but that it is all a part of the Journey mapped out for us.

Lance, you have become an integral part of the journey that I walk every day. Thank you for your company, especially when ED is in Wednesday. Not ironically, but well planned, I believe, you have become my travelling companion.

There was a time that you sat in my class – I asked the questions and you had to provide the answers. Now, you ask the questions and I have to search for the answers.

I have two books on my bedside table. The one is Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. The other is a compilation written by many different authors. It is edited by God Himself. It’s title is The Holy Bible.

Matthew, a Jewish tax collector and later an author, lived in the first century AD. He quoted his Travelling Companion, One called Jesus, as saying the following some two thousand years ago:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in Heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.”

 Mitch Albom quotes Morrie as saying,

We put our values in the wrong things. And it leads to very disillusioned lives.

We’ve got a form of brainwashing going on … more is good … gobble up something new …

Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have …

The truth is you don’t get satisfaction from those things …

 What really gives you satisfaction … is offering others what you have to give …your time. Your concern. Your storytelling …

Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

I have been blessed with living a life of many a winding turn – an extraordinary life!

There’s an ad on TV for Nedbank that sees fish falling from the sky. It says In extraordinary times, it’s your approach that counts!

And Mitch Albom quotes Morrie as saying “There’s a better approach. To know you’re going to die, and to be prepared for it at any time. That way you can actually be more involved in your life while you’re living. Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.”

“Is it today, little bird?” he asked. “Is it today?”