I hadn’t talked with Michael Toddings in over five years, so I was surprised when he invited me to meet with him over a drink at a local store in the neighborhood. I responded that I would look forward to the get-together because Michael worked at Torah Day School as the financial accountant, and I always thought that he was very good at his job.
I arrived a little early and waited for him. When he came in, I was astonished to see before me a totally different person. The guy had lost a significant amount of weight, his face was a little smaller and more oval than the round face I was used to seeing. And he had more hair than I remembered, which was totally white and very attractive.
After saying hello, Michael gave me a huge hug and kissed me. I knew something was up, since I always treated Michael professionally. We took a seat outside, and the first thing I asked was the obvious: “How much weight have you lost?”
He smiled and said, “in three years, I lost 97 lbs. I am a different person.”
What surprised me the most after that tremendous weight loss result was what he said next. “I have you to thank for helping to make this happen,” he said. “You told me on many occasions at work that I was too heavy for the financial position I was in and I had to do something about it. Of course, the effort was all mine, but you gave me the push, the incentive to do something about it, and I am here today to thank you for inspiring me to make this happen.”
We both got a drink and shuffled off to a private location where I could hear the whole story. Once we were settled, Michael gave me a present that was nicely wrapped and asked me to open it. I had no idea what it was, but I soon found out.
The present was a very simple plastic frame that had Michael’s photo of himself after his weight loss, and behind it was a paper napkin with a lot of notes written on it. I could see that the photo was exactly what Michael looked like sitting next to me, but I had no idea about the napkin or the writing on it. I asked Michael to explain the napkin and he told me the following story.
“You might remember that you were the Treasurer of Torah Day School about 12 years ago, and we worked closely together on the finances of the school. One day, several months after you and I were working together, you asked me to have lunch with you and we went to a local restaurant. At the restaurant, you mentioned a number of things that I should do to improve the financial position at the school and do it professionally. The napkin behind the picture is the napkin that I took notes on as we talked more than a decade ago. I kept that napkin all these years. I am now returning that napkin to you to show you how grateful I am for helping me improve my job and my life.”
I was astonished that Michael kept the napkin and that he was thanking me for what he had done on his own. I looked at the writings on the napkin and, with the notes that were there, we could recall the various items that were mentioned. I told Michael at that meeting long, long ago that he had to document the cash procedure of the school, and the napkin had a red line through that note to indicate that he had completed that task.
There was a note on improving the statement policy of the school, and to provide the policy to the Board of Trustees. It had a red line through it. There was a note to draft a letter to the organization providing a charity program the school had, and it had a redline through it.
There were other notes: to get in touch with a building contractor and to get a build-out plan to potentially add classrooms to the school. However, Michael focused on one specific note when he said, “You told me that in dealing with parents about their tuition and other financial matters, always end your service by asking if the parents are satisfied. You told me that service satisfaction was critical” — and that, too, had a red line through it.
He said, “I kept this napkin all these years to remind me how to do my job in the best way possible, and I have you to thank for giving me the right way to do my job. As you can see, I followed your advice again and again. I am very grateful for the advice you gave me so long ago, and I never had a chance to say thank you. I am doing that today, and you have my photo and the napkin to remind you how grateful I was then and now.”
When I asked about his personal situation, Michael said another thing that was inspiring. He said, “When I was 97 lbs. heavier, I had no romantic involvements. I had been divorced for many years and no one wanted to go out with me. Today, having lost 97 lbs., I am dating right now. I am 70 years old, and I am happy to have someone to be with regularly.”
I didn’t want to pursue that issue any longer, but I could tell that he was a different guy, not just because of his weight loss, but also because of his attitude. I always liked Michael, but he was so improved in his outlook on life that I could only feel love for the guy for having turned his life around in so many ways. It was an inspiring story.
We had a brief discussion about politics, and I mentioned that the vice president of the U.S. doesn’t seem to do much. I said there was one exception and that occurs when the president dies, like when Johnson became president after Roosevelt died. Then Michael said that had also occurred when another Johnson became president after Lincoln died.
Then he said, “I don’t think it would be a good idea for any Johnson to be vice president. The odds are not that good.” We both broke up laughing and it showed how much fun it was to be with Michael.
As we parted, Michael had one more very funny line to say. He said, “Look, when I started to get serious about losing weight, I started eating carrots. I thought the carrots would support a weight loss program, but I quickly discovered that carrots are composed of mostly sugar. The more carrots, the more sugar. I was not going to lose weight eating sugar. I threw away the carrots. I don’t eat them anymore.”
It was clear that Michael was a much different person than he was years ago, an inspiration for all of us.