A man came by my home to lay laminate down. We sat and talked.
He told me he has been married for 47 years, and he and his wife have two girls, 31 and 38, both of whom still live at home. The Laminate Man, 72, had that aura of a person who sits in a coffee shop all day long and banters on about the Leafs and Harper’s crazy refugee laws.
But after a while of shmoozing I could see there was a lot going on inside this man’s soul. The Laminate Man was a very intelligent man, quite able to articulate ideas in a most cogent fashion. Before he spoke, he considered his thoughts carefully. He was an old school sort of fellow, self-denigrating and the like, somewhat tired, but along with that came a firm understanding of life and a powerful drive to succeed.
When the laminate installer was a kid, he lost his dad. At 14, he had to support the family and it was then he began installing floors. Today, his knees are shot and he says, “It’s hard to stand during davening.”
I asked the Laminate Man if he resented having to go to work. He said, “It’s what I had to do. There was no choice.”
While the Laminate Man appeared to be one of those who struggled through life always searching for a level of success, it seemed to me he had found it. Think about it. He was 14 years old when he left school. He went to work and he supported the family. That is a success. He did it. He pulled it off. He held up his loved ones, at 14, the way we adults do today.
While we talked, I watched the Laminate Man. In my imagination, the Laminate Man was wearing a three-piece suit, sitting steadfastly at my dining room table speaking to me the way very wealthy people do – with that royal assurance one only gets from brokering the big deal.
I looked closely at him and projected another life on to him. I pretended he had finished his education and launched a company, one with a large staff with back office people and a sales force. I saw him as a corporate mogul, a multi-millionaire who was invited to expensive functions and honoured for his philanthropy and tikkun olam.
As I looked, I wondered about the paths we take in life and why we do. The Laminate Man’s name is not on the cornerstone of a hospital in downtown Toronto, and he is not called to comment on issues having to do with State of Israel. His road was different. It changed on a dime, because the Laminate Man’s father died early on; because he was forced to leave school and become a tiny bread-winner. He should have been playing ball.
What would his life had been had his father lived?
We work hard, find a groove at some point and strive to bring meaning to our family, our community, the world and sometimes even ourselves. But all of this is predicated on the path we took, not the one we didn’t. What would our lives be if they had taken one fundamentally different turn; if life-changing news arrived uninvited one morning?
Vincent van Gogh said he celebrated all the pictures he created and mourned those he was never able to. That is the Laminate Man.