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What I Learned This Week: When The Worst Becomes The Best

09/09/2013 07:51 EDT | Updated 11/09/2013 05:12 EST

One of the many great things about being Jewish -- aside from the food, the reputation of an inbred sense of humour, and being able to control the world's media AND its financial infrastructure at the same time -- is that we get to reflect on a year past and plan for the one ahead not once, but twice every 365 days.

As I compose this, and if you're reading it relatively timely, we are smack-dab in the middle of Rosh Hashana (literally, the "head" of the year) and Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement. It's a special time of personal assessment for those who even remotely practice, and one of the most thought-provoking inspirations is the High Holidays' most profound prayer. I won't quote all of it, but somewhat edited, it goes:

"On New Year's Day the decree is inscribed, and on the Day of Atonement it is sealed, how many shall pass away and how many will be born; who shall live and who shall die; who shall attain the measure of man's days and who shall not attain it; who shall perish by fire and who by water; who will be at ease and who will be afflicted; who shall become poor and who shall wax rich; who shall be brought low and who shall be exalted."

Yikes. That's a lot to think about. This sure ain't no holiday for tinsel or toys. Good thing we got that "inbred sense of humour" thing going.

In a nutshell, that prayer, the philosophical centerpiece of the High Holidays, says that there's some good stuff and some bad stuff about to go down... we just can't tell you how much of each. Get ready.

This got me to thinking about the good and the bad... and led to this week's learning, namely:

Sometimes the worst of times may be the best of times in disguise.

I repeat the caveat: Sometimes.

Here's what I mean. Consider the case of four Canadian mayors over the past year, all of whom endured what could be considered "the worst of times." One of them, Michael Applebaum, took over from a scandalized Gérald Tremblay in Montreal. He came in soaring on an anti-corruption platform... and was removed unceremoniously seven months later after being arrested on the very charges he championed against. Another, Toronto's seemingly indestructible Rob Ford, is amazingly still in office after deflecting more shocking scandals, allegations and accusations than the Nixon regime, the Stalin regime and Charlie Sheen combined.

But, on the VERY other hand, consider the cases of Naheed Nenshi, the mayor of Calgary, and Colette Roy-Laroche, mayor of Lac-Mégantic. Both these elected officials suffered epic, almost biblical disasters; he the Noah's Ark-ian flooding of his city's most populated areas and she the horrific runaway MM&A train and its town-leveling explosion. In terms of direct damage, lives lost and traumatic aftermath, you'd have to be a sadist or terrorist to think of things getting any worse.

Yet for both these politicians, their "worst of times" have also proven to be their most defining moments. The skill, grace, poise, humility and strength they both showed in dealing with their respective crises have made them heroes, showering them with respect, love and praise. The cries of "Roy-Laroche for Premier!" are equaled only by those of "Nenshi for Prime Minister!" A tale of two cities, indeed.

Now, nobody blatantly hopes for a tragedy or catastrophe. Neither Ms. Roy-Laroche nor Mr. Nenshi secretly wished for a game-changing calamity or thought "How do I exploit this for my personal gain?" when they were faced with one. But the way both handled their "worst of times" turned their proverbial lemons not merely into lemonade, but into solid gold... not to mention faith, trust and ultimately, optimism for a brighter tomorrow.

And there is no time better than that, is there?

So, no matter when you celebrate New Year's, some day soon you will have to face what appears to be your worst of times.

Wheher it actually turns out to be, well...that all depends on how you choose to deal with it.