| Family Tempo |

Broken Trees, Whole Heart

And then I got a call from the boss. “Why did you go behind my back and get the previous employee’s phone number?”


I was in the market for a new job when I saw an advertisement offering a position with hours that fit my schedule perfectly, in an office exactly a seven-minute walk from my home. I eagerly applied.

A beloved employee had decided to go back to school — at least that’s what the boss told me at my job interview — and I was perfectly suited to fill her shoes.

I’d heard that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But that’s not really right, is it? Isn’t every newborn baby too good to be true? And every sunset and mountain view? And honestly, most of my life? Certainly, there are a lot of times that life works out the way we want it to.

But this time it didn’t.

“I’d like you to come in next week so that we can discuss the details and make sure you’re indeed the right fit for the job,” the boss continued. “I’m going out of town for a few days, but I’ll be in touch when I get back to finalize a time.”

I tried to keep the excitement out of my voice. This job seemed absolutely perfect for me, but I didn’t want her to realize how desperate I was for it. “Excellent,” I said, trying to sound professional, and not like a giddy teenager. “If you wouldn’t mind giving me the phone number of the person who had the job before me, I’d like to speak to her so I can get more details about what the job entails.”

“Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I get back next week.”

The next week, as promised, she called and asked if I could be in her office the next morning. It would be a great day to come in, since there was a staff meeting and I could meet the rest of the crew.

“Great. Could I just get the number of the lady I’ll be taking over from? I’d like to speak to her.”

“Oh, she’s very busy with her studies. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Was it my imagination or was she avoiding giving me the number? Despite its initial appeal, was this job a nightmare waiting to happen? Had the previous employee run away?

I showed up at the office the next morning. The secretary offered me a drink and said the boss would be with me in a few minutes. I chatted with her, and she told me what a wonderful place it was to work. It occurred to me she probably had the number of the person I’d be replacing. I asked her for the number, and she gave it to me easily. With the number safely saved in my phone, I went in to meet my future boss.

The more I heard about the job, the more confident I became that this was the job I’d been waiting for all these years.

The boss asked me to stick around for the staff meeting so she could introduce me to everyone. I had a great time meeting everyone and left the office in a wonderful mood. I just had to confirm with my predecessor that I wasn’t making a terrible mistake.

To my relief, she answered on the first ring and told me all I wanted to know about the job. There didn’t seem to be any skeletons in the closet.

At the end of the conversation, she mentioned that she was very upset she’d been asked to leave the job. She would have needed to slightly cut back on her hours because she’d started school, but she felt she could still get the work done in that time, and was disappointed the management hadn’t tried to accommodate her. Oh, well, I guessed that explained the hesitation the boss had with giving me the number; the boss was most likely afraid she might take this opportunity to get back at her.

I finally allowed myself to relax. My dream job was happening. I started to imagine walking into a store and not debating a million times if I really needed something. I looked forward to being part of a team again.

And then I got a call from the boss.

“Why did you go behind my back and get the previous employee’s phone number?”

I was totally taken aback. I’d assumed  it was obvious that they would make phone calls to my previous employers inquiring about me, and that I would also make my own inquiries.

“Umm,” I stammered. “I didn’t think it was going behind your back. I don’t work for you yet. I assumed you would expect me to do my own research.”

“Of course I would want you to speak to her, but I asked you not to call yet. I was waiting for the right time to give you her number.”

“I don’t think I would’ve called had you asked me not to. You told me she was busy with her school work. I assumed she could tell me herself if she didn’t have time to talk.”

“The work we do is very dependent on honesty. I’m not sure you can fit in with us. Surely you understood that I didn’t want you to call.”

My heart was pounding. I couldn’t believe my ears. This sounded absurd to me. Imagine a shidduch complaining that you called references they hadn’t provided you with? What was going on here?

“I think if you ask people who know me, they’ll tell you I’m very honest. I did get the idea that maybe you didn’t want me to call. But that made me nervous — were you trying to hide something? If I weren’t honest, I would never admit that to you now.”

“Well, what did she tell you?”

“She told me what happened. I understand why you wouldn’t have wanted me to speak to her, but she only said wonderful things about you and the job.”

“All right. Our secretary will call you within the hour to make a time to sign a contract.”

Only I didn’t hear from the secretary within the hour. Instead I got an email the next morning saying: “Thank you for your interest in our company. I apologize that you got so far along in the acceptance process before we discovered that, despite your many qualifications and wonderful personality, you aren’t a match for our office culture.”

A storm raged inside of me.

Why did I ask the secretary for the number? Of course she might tell her boss!

But I didn’t do anything wrong! It’s the most normal thing in the world to speak to the previous employee.

That boss is a deranged control freak. You’re lucky you escaped.

I can’t afford to be picky now — we needed that job!

What a hypocrite! She’s worried about my honesty? She didn’t ask me not to call. She told me the previous employee was too busy to talk!

I was so stupid to admit I thought she was hiding something! I should’ve pretended I had no idea she didn’t want to give me the number!

The elements had the blessed mercy to empathize with me. Thunder crashed and trees swayed like blades of grass. Torrents of rain fell in sheets. The noon sky was nearly black, lit only by intermittent flashes of lightening. The nearly unprecedented storm offered me some solace. It was as if everyone in a several-mile radius was sharing my turbulent emotions.

It’s not fair! She hired me already! She hired me! I met the staff. I need this job! I had this job. Noooo!

And then an earsplitting crack right outside the window made me jump. It took me a moment to collect my wits and figure out what happened. The enormous tree I’d always been able to see outside my kitchen window was gone. I went to the back porch to survey the damage, but when I slid the door open all I could see were leaves and branches.

Raindrops clinging to my eye lashes, I looked out the back door again and pieced together what I was seeing.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

It wasn’t even Pesach yet, but it looked as though we were already ready for Succos. My neighbor’s tree had fallen and was now sprawled across the pergola in the half of the yard that becomes my succah. And the other half of the yard? I looked out the kitchen window where the tree had been, just to be sure.

Yes! The tree was gone!

We have a nice size yard that would be perfect for a nice size succah. But that huge tree in the neighbor’s yard had one long branch reaching over half the yard, obliterating that option. The previous tenant had begged to cut that one branch at his personal expense, but the neighbor had refused to budge.

Every year, after the first Yom Tov meal of Succos, we clear out the table and shlep in all the beds. The next morning, we have to repeat the process in reverse. Every day of Succos, we can’t drag in the table until the last sleepy bochur has rolled out of bed. And no one can sleep, or even nap, until the table gets pulled out and the beds dragged in.

Now, not only had the overhanging branch disappeared, but the entire tree had been toppled. Our succah could be enlarged, and we could build a space for the beds in the newly “kashered” part of our yard.

Outside the rain still fell in sheets, but the wind and thunder quieted. The sky was a pale gray, instead of midnight black. I was still sad and frustrated and disappointed about my almost-job, but my stormy emotions had settled along with the storm outside.

This is the part of the story where I share my great enlightenment, the magnificent parallel in my own life. Just like that tempest outside my window had felled the giant that had blocked our ability to build our succah, the gale inside me had removed… what? And allowed room for me to become what? Was there some bad middah this had corrected, some growth that could now happen?

But I was stuck. What did I gain from either of these experiences? I wasn’t sure. Perhaps it was something quite obvious, but my own biases and defense mechanisms prevented me from seeing it? Perhaps it was something subtle I’d only be aware of in the future?

Throughout the summer, as I sat at the kitchen table and drank my morning coffee, I’d marvel at how after so many years of wishing my succah could accommodate beds and table simultaneously, come Tishrei, it would be finally would be able to.

And I know somewhere deep inside myself that there is space to become so much more, now that the sky is clear of obstructions.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 747)

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