Monday, June 21, 2010

Unfinished Business: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things

We have all been there. Sometimes life has a habit of getting in the way of our best intentions. Lee Kravitz, a self-admitted workaholic from a long line of workaholics, was perhaps even guiltier than most of us about drifting, completely self-absorbed, through life. It is not that Kravitz did not know how to do the right things; it is that, in his mind, there was never enough time to do them.

To his credit, however, when he was unexpectedly given the opportunity to right many of the wrongs in his past, he jumped at the chance. Suddenly thrown out of work in his mid-fifties, Kravitz decided to spend one full year taking care of “unfinished business.” As he puts it, “For a variety of reasons – my self-involvement, my hurry to get ahead, a sense that I would get to them later - I had neglected matters of great consequence. In the process, I had hurt the people closest to me and fed the fear and compulsion that had kept me chained to my job.” Now he had the time to make amends, and he was determined to make the most of his chance.

Unfinished Business is divided into ten chapters within which Kravitz revisits someone from his past: an aunt he has not had contact with in years, an old friend whose daughter was assassinated in Iraq, another old friend to whom he has owed money for several decades, a Pakistani friend he fears may have been caught up in the crazy religious hatred of his home country, an inspirational high school teacher, and even the bully he still hates, among them. Along the way, he also manages to help reconcile the relationship between his father and an uncle, and visits his grandmother’s grave site to reconcile his guilt over having neglected her in her last months and not having had the courage to attend her funeral.

The most surprising thing about Kravitz’s year of “trying to do the right things” is what he learns about those he feels so guilty about wronging in his past. Most of his supposed victims have moved on and do not feel victimized by Kravitz’s past behavior or neglect. They have a different perspective on their relationship with Kravitz and he is surprised to learn that they seldom even think about the incidents that make him feel so guilty. His monetary debt has been forgotten, his aunt is thrilled to see him, and even the bully, of whom Kravitz felt himself to be a special target, turns out to have considered him just another face in the crowd.

Unfinished Business is a bit uneven in the sense that some chapters are so meaningful and touching that they make other others seem almost trivial in comparison. The first chapter, describing a very happy reconciliation with the aunt who always considered Kravitz to be her favorite family member, is the strongest of the book. Other chapters dealing with family members, even the one outlining a visit to his grandmother’s grave, are the ones most likely to touch the reader.

Bottom Line: This is a book with a worthy message, one we would all do well to consider before it is too late for us to spend time “doing the right things” for those who have most impacted our own lives.

Rated at: 3.5

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