This is one of my favorite stories told to me by my late father and included in my book “Pathfinding.” I don’t know its origin, but my father told me there was a similar story told by a rabbi with different names. This story speaks to turning obstacles into opportunities and how without the obstacle, the opportunity may never present itself.
One day the owner of a building tells his caretaker that he must go out of town for a day but that he expects a most important letter. He informs the caretaker that he must make sure he gets the registered letter himself because it is a very important letter. The owner leaves the next morning. That afternoon the letter is delivered, but requires a signature. The caretaker tells the postman that he doesn’t know how to write.
The postman explains that he must obtain an actual signature, no marks or Xs. Since the caretaker can’t write, the postman refuses to leave the letter. When the owner returns and learns what happened, he becomes furious and fires the caretaker on the spot. The caretaker finds himself without a job and without an income. To support his meager existence, he starts peddling whatever goods and services he can to survive. His business begins to grow and improves to the point that he is able to open a little store.
By the time his sons are old enough to help him, he has become well established. The sons inherit the business and when the caretaker retires, they decide to build a larger store. They ask their father, the former caretaker, to help them borrow the money to finance their ambitious undertaking. The father asks the banker for the loan and the banker says, “No problem. You can have whatever you need. Just sign on the dotted line.”
The father looks at the banker and replies, “I can’t sign. I never learned how to write.” In astonishment, the banker asks, “How is it possible that a man who can’t write could be as successful as you are?”
“Ah,” says the father, “If I could write, I’d still be a caretaker.”
PATRICIA RASKIN is an award-winner radio producer and talk-show host. The Patricia Raskin Show airs on WPRO. She is a board member of Temple Emanu-El. She can be reached at patriciaraskin.com.