I am not sure if it was the death of my brother that spurred me on or the ongoing feeding of this emptiness within my chest. Either way, my longing for a sense of identity, for meaning out of my own brokenness and chaos, a longing for affirmation and a sense of wholeness, all began to lead me into more and more community involvement.
In the first year of running the restaurant the company let me know that the restaurant was actually doing quite poorly and so they gave me one year to turn it around or else they would close the operation. I would be fine as far of job protection, as they realized that one year is a short amount of time, so they promised that they would just transfer me to another restaurant in another city if it didn’t work out here.
But, I liked it here. And I felt an immense responsibility to the twenty or so employees who were working for me. I also liked the challenge. Perhaps my brother’s death just gave me the excuse to pour myself more into my work but either way by the time that fiscal year was over I had grown the business by close to 30% and had shaved off a lot of inefficiencies in the operation, adding to a very healthy bottom line. Not only was the store saved, but I had received a bonus, my staff received a bonus, and I also began to win a number of both provincial and national awards for my work.
But it wasn’t enough.
I became a member of the Rotary Club. I became a member of the Chamber of Commerce. I ran for public office – twice. While I was part of the Chamber of Commerce I became the chair of a special committee formed to address the rising crime – in particular business related crime – in the community. This lead into my starting a weekly radio and newspaper commentary on the community. Then an elderly man was brutally murdered in a home invasion. That enraged the community and I became a part of a special committee that the city set up. This involvement then lead to founding a non-profit organization that included in the name community justice center.
This center and focus of the group was to establish a restorative justice model for the community. I received a special award from the governor general because of that work. I traveled with the local member of the legislative assembly – a minister at the time, to various communities where I would lead workshops on crime prevention and restorative justice. I was asked by the attorney general to be a part of a special panel workshop held in a neighboring city on restorative justice, where there were high-ranking city officials from the entire region, all to talk to the success that our city had.
I worked with the provincial vehicle insurance agency and the local school system and the city to set up the first ever mock realistic accident to deal with the dangers of drunk driving. This meant shutting down the city’s core intersection for the lunch hour while the mock accident happened. Various emergency agencies participated in this ‘live drama’ for the community and students who suddenly came upon this scene during their lunch felt the impact of the event by bursting into tears at the realistic sight.
But it all wasn’t enough.
Our family continued to grow. Our son was born later that same year that I lost my brother. Shortly after, my wife was pregnant with our third child, and in the midst of a toddler, a newborn, and a pregnancy we (meaning mostly her) took on the daunting task of building an addition onto our home, along with gutting our kitchen to put in a new one. For a month, our kitchen was moved to our living room. Floors were ripped up, walls taken apart, building materials were mixed in with breakfast cereal. Her father did the framing of the addition, her brother helped me with the tearing apart and the rebuilding of the kitchen, and our psuedo-pastor lent a hand, in-between his own odd jobs to fill his time and provide some sort of income for his family.
We lived in a perpetual state of chaos for quite a few months, my growing community and extra-curricular activities eating more and more into my family time. This only grew worse as time went on. I had the restaurant to run and I had these various community meetings to attend, both in the city and outside of the city. Somewhere in the middle of this hectic journey, I traveled two and a half hours – one way – once a week, for twelve or so weeks, to another city in order to take some specialized suicide prevention training, in hopes to establish a specialized suicide prevention center in our city.
Then we had this ongoing weekly prayer meeting that was beginning to add in numbers and length. We were also attending a local church, doing the Sunday morning thing but also participating in the other church events that would come up. Between my community involvement, my wife’s various participation with different groups and events, the prayer meeting, the church events, the renovations, it resulted in a time-frame of about two years where it was all we could do but to survive the day.
We both didn’t seem to mind it all, at the time. We both had the energy for it, the enthusiasm for what was happening all around us, but I often look back with much regret at this time. Yeah, I accomplished a lot in those few years, both personally and generatively – in the community and beyond. Yeah, I won some amazing awards and found a lot of recognition – not a week would go by without my name being mentioned in the local media for something. I couldn’t walk down the street without being recognized and invited into various conversations. In a way I became a mini-celebrity and this was my fifteen minutes of fame.
But it wasn’t enough.