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This is the story of a wealthy prince and a homeless woman who taught me a math lesson

I was 17 years old when I came out as a gay man to my family. I was still grieving my first heartbreak when I was struck with my first real loss – my grandma died. Shortly after, the deteriorating relationship between a gay single child and an orphan single mother, both trying to live under the same roof, made me want to leave home – and I did. I was 18 years old when this series of events led me to think for the first time that I was on the edge of a breakdown. And it was at this very same point in my life that I had my first grand awakening – a turning point driven by an avalanche of challenges. I was 19 years old when I left my home country to start again.

In facing the challenges life had posed me, I actively sought God for the first time. Born and raised Jewish, my internal pursuit for spirituality and godliness started within my own creed. I confess that when I left home seeking to find myself, I was not sure how the divine side of life would help me on my way – but I had to believe in something. It is interesting to me now that my pursuit to understand myself started with me posing questions about God. In getting closer to and deeper within myself, I concluded that God and I have something in common: we are both the result of purely uninvestigated beliefs.

Imagine trying to solve the equation x = (1+1) * 3 if we started from the assumption that 1+1 = 3. Would we be able to reach the result? Yes, we would! The answer would be 32, or simply 9. That is to say that finding the result for the equation is independent from the assumptions we made for it. If we start off assuming one plus one equals three, nine is the correct answer for this equation, which does not mean that nine is the true result for this problem. This is so because we used the right arithmetic with the wrong assumption to begin with. Therefore, the solution found depends on the used hypothesis – in other words, the beliefs.

Having this said, is it any wonder that sometimes we find it so hard to find true solutions to our problems in life? How often do we go about them using the math right, but stumbling upon the assumptions we make about them? Bingo! This is the reminder I need on my wall right now!

It has been fourteen years since I faced my first major turning point in life. Today, after having overcome minor and major crossroads, I feel on the verge again. Decisions I have made brought me here. And it is time for me to scrutinize the set of beliefs I carry along with me into the next chapter of my life.

Well, you see? I turned out to become a marketing guy. When speaking marketing, I normally say that one of my pluses is my affinity to telling stories in contrast to simply conveying messages. And this so because of my passion for the reverse engineering used to get information into the minds of people by using anecdotes, parables, folktales and allegories. As ancient as education itself and still frequently used in schools to satisfy the students’ needs for answers, storytelling is an art.

Making use of this invaluable resource, I hereby share mementos of my past, which shall guide me into this imminent new beginning.

Story #1

I was told this story by an old man while riding the NYC metro from Kingston Avenue in Brooklyn to 34 Street-Penn Station in Manhattan somewhen in the Fall of 2005:

There was once a very wise king who observed his teenage son developing a very strong feeling of superiority, arrogance and greed due to his wealth and position as heir to the throne. The king decided to summon his young prince and commanded him to go spend seven days and nights among the people in their kingdom. The young boy was scared at first thinking he would be deprived of his wealth for so long, until his father handed him a one-million-schilling coin to spend on his journey.

Carrying his one-million-schilling coin with pride, the boy crossed the walls of the castle with everything already planned in his head. He would pay some locals to provide him the best accommodation available in the kingdom, he would pay the men of the city watch to guard and protect him, he would pay the best butchers, farmers, bakers and cooks in town to provide him with the best quality food money could buy in that region and he would hire some local artists and entertainers to amuse him with their artistries. This way, those seven days and nights would pass very quickly.

He started his journey looking for lodging. He knocked at every single inn and guesthouse in the village, only to be dismissed from each one of them for the same reason: “The night costs half a schilling only. We cannot accept a one-million-schilling coin. We have no way to give you change for that amount of money”. The boy then started to get thirsty and hungry. He tried to buy water and food everywhere, only to find out that his one-million-schilling coin could not buy him even a loaf of bread and a glass of water. A whole week worth of meals would cost him a schilling only. The absurd wealth he was carrying with him was more than enough for all he needed. Yet, his inability of turning the one-million-schilling coin in one million one-schilling coins left him on the streets without water, food and safety.

The story continues. As a matter of fact, it does not really matter how it ends. The “lesson learned” part of the plot has been reached. Keep that it mind.

Story #2

I was told this story by a middle-aged homeless lady I met in Uniondale, New York, on March 26th, 2006. I spent that night on the city’s train station in her company after losing the last train back home. Her name was Virginia.

Virginia told me that when she was a teenager, she had serious issues with her self-esteem. She said she was not one of the popular girls and that she struggled to fit at least among the smart ones. Back then, her mother was a high-school teacher. And every time her mother would find her having one of her ‘moments’, she would reach out to her and tell her this story:

There was a time when classes of the same grade were divided by taking the students’ overall grades from the previous year as the only criteria to split them into different groups. The best students were grouped together in Class A whereas students with lower grades were grouped separately in so-called “special classes” named Class B and Class C.

Since this method was being met with strong criticism by parents of those students with the lowest performance, the school decided to replace it. Therefore, a new grouping method was developed. It consisted in splitting the students equality in different groups, so that each class would have a mix of top, average and below-average students. The educators’ intention in doing so was to promote mutual support and group work among the pupils. The class naming remained Class A, Class B and Class C.

After running under this new system for a while, the school was alarmed with the results. Statistics showed that students from the old-system’s Class A (the top ones), who had been moved to Class B or Class C, experienced a significant drop in their performance. The same happened to students from classes B who were moved to class C. At the same time, students from the old-system’s Class C, who were allocated to Class A under the new system, experienced significant improvement in their grades. The same happened to students from class B who were moved to class A.

Virginia told me this story as she talked about the hardships that made her become a homeless person. As of today I can still remember with much clarity when she looked at me and said:

Life fucked me up, you know? Wrong people! That’s why I ain’t got no home. These streets are my home now, boy! . . . [pause] . . . You’re sitting in my living room! . . . [laughs, sighs] . . . And you know why I ain’t got no home, boy? . . . [pause – she looks deep into my eyes] . . . The Lord knows. The good Lord knows my mother was right . . . [pause] . . . Every day of my life – every fucking day of my life I think that I should have listened to her. I was a class A student . . . [raises voice] . . . I was a class A citizen for fuck’s sake! And then came those God-dammed motherfuckers who put me in class C – not in school, boy, not in school – in life! . . . [speaking slower and quieter] . . . These God-damned motherfuckers played with me. And I was stupid . . . [pause] . . . I was put in Class C. I believed I was Class C. I became Class C . . . [I remained silent trying to find words to fill the void] . . .

My one-off encounter with Virginia is a memorable moment in my life and I could share numerous other stories about that night. But once again, the “lesson learned”part has been reached. Time to move on.

I just stopped and read this whole post from the beginning again. I wonder how many readers will see its core message as the product of a positive or a negative state of mind. Straightforwardly speaking, this is nothing but the good and worthy of me facing challenges and reacting to these with deep dives into my web of memories. This is how I learn best.

Well, it is incredible to think that I was told these two stories more than a decade ago. Still, their value has never felt so pertinent like RIGHT (pause) NOW. As I sit here today writing these lines, I find myself in an intermediate state between the hollowness of not belonging to the past-present and not having yet reached the future either. Decisions I made brought me here and I have once again hit the crossroads. I am on the verge of a turning point and as I look in the mirror now, I see a young prince carrying a million-schilling coin in his hands. I also see a Class A student who was moved to Class C. This guy in the mirror has a lot of stories to tell the 19-year-old version of himself. And because of that, this guy in the mirror wants to make sure that this time, one plus one equals two. Cheers to new beginnings!

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