A need for thanks

Saying thank you for a favor is easy. Saying thank you when you know you’re admitting to the world that you’re vulnerable and you know you couldn’t have managed without is harder. Nevertheless, I have to thank my vice principal today, for not just helping as she has had to so much recently, but how she helped.

I’ll make a long story short and just say I ended up in the office sick for the second (or maybe even third) time in a short while. The Vice-Principal is the one who usually deals with sick people in our school, and knows a lot about my medical history. In the past, when I end up in her office, I’m so worn out that after waiting it out a while, and a few protests and tears, I agree to be sent home. This time, though, I put up quiet the miserable fight. Someone was counting on me to be there today, and I didn’t want to let them down. These days, being sick has put an even bigger burden on everyone around me than before, and I let all my misery out to her. Another caring person who tried to help made things much worse and she dealt with it discreetly and properly.

The whole thing is a blur in my head, but I remember her thoughtfulness, her humor, her trying to accommodate me and help me stay as best as possible. I vividly recall that even when I was acting like a baby, she still talked to me like I was sane, and when I was ‘with it’ again, she talked to me as much like an adult as a Vice-Principal ever would to a baby-faced student. She made the whole thing less painful.

I didn’t just want her help, I needed it. And therefore, though I might not want to share my painful experience, I need to.

G-d in our lives; Chanukah post 1

One major theme of Chanukah is seeing G-d in life; not just the huge miracles and victories, but nature and the ‘ordinary’ things He arranges with a Hand too subtle for us to see.

Thank You for the seat in the crowded bus so I could get home without tiring myself out. Yes, that’s a big deal.

Constructive Criticism Pocket guide

(Yes, you can print this out for personal use, but please do not distribute without written permission.)

First of all, make sure that your words will be listened too. Double check. Are you sure you’re the right person to address this? Is this an issue to worry about? Is now the right time? If you’re as sure as you can be:

  1. Start in a pleasant, friendly voice. Keep it light.
  2. Talk somewhere quiet where you won’t be overheard.
  3. Don’t judge. Just point out, nicely, that you’ve noticed something, and you thought they might want to know.
  4. Don’t sound like the authority on the subject. You’re talking as a peer, a friend. Friends are awesome mentors and you don’t need to sound better than them to get your point across!
  5. Offer help and follow up, if you think it’s wanted. Not needed, wanted. You don’t want to force the issue.
  6. Plan what your going to say to make sure it’s the right words for now.
  7. Make sure it’s the right time to say it. Make sure it’s not just a quiet place, but a quiet time, and that your friend is in a good enough mood to listen.
  8. And finally, daven. Offer an informal prayer, or a quick kapital tehillim beforehand that it all go well. This is crucial!

If you use common sense and keep your best intentions for your friend in mind, you can’t mess it up too badly. Ask a mentor if you’re not sure. It can’t hurt to wait on it. GOOD LUCK, caring friend!

How to be a critic

I’ve mentioned constructive (I don’t like to call it rebuke, that’s for parents and teachers) criticism in posts in the past, and I thought a longer post about it might be warranted. What exactly is constructive criticism?

Did you know that just like it’s a mitzvah to rebuke someone, it’s a mitzvah not to if you know it’s not likely to be listened to? More often than not, my response is to turn a blind eye, and work on being machmir with myself instead, but sometimes, it has to happen. Here are some tips for being heard, without humiliating anyone or destroying a friendship. (FYI, yes, this post is long, but it’s worth reading. There’s a link to a short form at the bottom.)

  1. Keep a pleasant voice
    Start with something kind and friendly, such as ‘Hey, Shprintza, do you have a moment?’
  2. Move it to a private place
    99% of the time, this isn’t just an ‘if possible.’ Most people will willingly come somewhere quiet for a moment, but if no-where quiet can be found, you should almost definitely wait until later. This is to avoid anyone accidentally overhearing, which could be lashon Harah as well as rather embarrassing. Use your discretion! Also, keep a quiet tone of voice– my ‘inside voice’ carries quiet well sometimes, so I have to constantly remind myself to go one level softer than I would otherwise– if you think that will help.
  3. Again, be cheerful and non-judgmental.
    You should approach this at an angle of ‘You know, I’ve noticed sometimes that you blablabla bla bla. I don’t know if you realized but that’s really abababab. I thought you might want to know that smurfy smurfy smurf.’ You can’t deny that you noticed what their doing, but for your own peace of mind as much as for the other person you should assume that they didn’t know better. Often, that’s all it is. Even when you know that they probably do know and just need a reminder, taking that tone can get you listened to. Also, have you ever heard about ‘I statements’ vs. ‘You statements?’ Even when you’re talking to someone else about them, ‘I statements’ can soften your words. Look above for an example.
  4. Do NOT patronize
    Approach them as a friend, on their level. You’re just giving advice.
  5. If relevant, offer to help in the future
    Sometimes, one little reminder is all it takes. But if your ‘notice’ is a bolt out of the blue for the other person, or they’re genuinely interested in learning more, remind them that you’re available to follow up.
  6. Plan what you’re going to say before you say it.
    When I have something important to say, at any time, I know I’m not always going to get it right on the first time. So, I’ll rehearse it in my head beforehand. (This is helpful beyond measure in all areas of life.) Often, I can’t find a quiet place for some time, and that gives me the chance I need. When you’re planning, think about your friend’s nature. Are they the sensitive type who needs to be gradually led to an idea, or are they blunt and straightforward and would much rather just hear ‘Um, Sarah, you’ve got a huge run in those tights and you might want to find a new pair STAT’?
  7. Don’t heap it all on at once
    It’s happened more than once where I’ll say something that doesn’t even really register as criticism, ‘Lea, that bun looks great but there’s a cute little curl sticking out at the back. Just in case you don’t have eyes in the back of your head;’ and then, notice or see shortly after something that fits the ‘do say’ conditions above. Maybe it’s just that I’m the sensitive type mentioned above, but I wouldn’t like so much ‘problem fixing’ all at once. Unless it’s something really really minor (you be the judge) I’d rather wait a little while and see if the problem will resolve itself. Sometimes, it does, and then you don’t have to say two things at all.
  8. Remember, you can ask a mentor if you’re not sure.
    They are always available. If you don’t want to get ‘the authorities’ involved in whatever minor thing this person did, you can leave out names and the most crucial details, or ask someone who dosn’t know your friend. Sometimes, though, knowing both sides of the story can give a more careful response. And, above all these tips, DAVEN!!

Whew, that was quiet the post! Makes up for all the other weeks, I hope. In all seriousness, though, the goal of reading this isn’t for you to become an expert at criticizing your friends. We’re all perfect :), and I hope you’ll never need these skills. This way, though, if you ever see the need, you’ll have a better idea of how to encourage maximum improvement with minimal pain.

(Pocket guide! here, along with a few more tips.)

The downside of writing…

… for me, other than not getting anything today because I was bitten by a plot bunny, is much more serious. Everything that happens in Israel, especially when I’ve been writing for about three hours today, is like a personal punch in the gut.

The solder killed in the most recent attack, השם ייקום דמו? He could have been my main character. Any of the young, promising Yidden in their army service. The people injured? His family, friends, cousins, shadchan. The children living in fear, because stabbings don’t even come with an air-raid siren and can strike, ה ‘ישמור, out of the blue; are the characters who grew up as I did, and are as much a part of my life as my own friends in Canada. My story is set in Israel, and the blood-streaked stones are the ones I wander in my mind every time I close my eyes. Usually, it’s a blessing, but today, it feels more like a punishment.

Perhaps I’m the only one who prefers being in pain to being numb, as I was with all the other past (I’m not going to call them incidents. They were) murders. The tears that came days after reading about the Jew who stabbed another Jew were almost a relief– they proved the pain had not made me loose touch with reality. This soldier was a world of his own, created personally by the Almighty.

We’re living in a paradox. The way I see it, we’re meant to accept what G-d’s already done, but remember the pain and storm the heavens that it never happen again. Hear that? We small humans have the power to make it NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. But on that, I’ve said enough. Tonight, I just need to cry.

Such a gift

I plan to elaborate on this later, but I can’t go to bed without saying thank you.

I never eat potato chips, but today, in the midst of one of the worst days I’ve had in a while, I suddenly wanted some, and ran down between classes.

G-d made the vending machine give me my chips for nearly free. Believe me, I was a little worried it was theft, and tried to work around it. But the machine insisted! What could I do?

In addition to those special rare souls who showed how much they care today, that warm hug from above helped take the edge off of the pain. I still don’t know what happened, or why, but I know, somehow, that it will be ok.

A light in the dark

The recent stabbing attacks in Israel have all been so horrific, but this one stands out. A 13 year old on his bike. Where I live, if you stay away from the traffic, nothing could be more prosaic. Stabbed by two boys, one his age, one a little older.

Here is some light. We all know how amazing Hatzolah/Magen David Adom is. Here’s a new one. A Hatzolah member picking his child up from a playdate while off duty stopped to answer a question from someone in the family– a, if Heaven forbid this happens, how do we work around xyz already existing issue?– question. Of course they would. It’s just another way for them to preempt a crisis and potentially save a life.

But still– look at it deeper. Maybe you just had to be there to appreciate the encouraging, kind tone that was used. The willingness to stay however long the question took. The way his child stood waiting patiently the entire time. The fact that we’re a nation where something like this isn’t breaking news… just a part of life. So normal it’s exceptional.

Wishing you all good health and protection to all the residents of Israel.

Not again

Mimi read this post and referred it to me, saying that it’s what she’s been trying to express all along. How even though every moment of conflict hurts so badly, it gives her hope that it will be the last pain before the Redemption. And yet, when the pain lessens… so do we. I was given permission (Todah Rabah,) to use an sample of the post here. I highly recommend visiting the blog for the whole thing: I’m finally sick of Golus, by Rivka Nehorai

I’m really protesting something else – I’m angry that this will bring me higher.

I find with astonishment as I check my internal dialogue that part of me is fed up that this situation will bring me closer to Israel and the Jewish people. I’ll take on a mitzvah, take on an action. My perspective will shift, my priorities will realign, and the shtus of my life will stop avalanching me, because within me I am preoccupied with the growing understanding of the precariousness of the Jewish people and the need for us to focus.

When terror strikes, my life gets simultaneously heavier and better; because my head, heart, and soul are finally, finally aligned. When Israel is under attack, my head is at last found focused in the celestial clouds while my feet are on the ground. I’m able to function in this world while my heart prays for another world.

And I’m tired of it.

Because I’m sick and tired of sliding back. I’m sick of once the terror fades and slides under the radar again that I forget.

I’m tired of forgetting.

I think the author’s solution to the problem is a mission statement we should all adapt. Myself, and Mimi, and you. And everyone.

Shavuah tov

For even one hour

Even if my tear-drenched, perched on the edge of my bed seeking relief from the pain, tearing my heart out for the umpteenth time today- prayers only gave me this burst of good feeling and health for– I’d say three hours now– it was worth it.

I hope it stays. I not only hope, I pray. I really really want it to. But even a small taste of relief, gone tomorrow, is an answer to my prayers from G-d. Even if He can’t take away the full burden, for reasons only He knows, He lightened the load a little for me.

 

The though I bring to you today is this: In a strategy game I play sometimes, if you make a fatal move you can reverse, undo, and try to choose a better one. You don’t get that in real life, unfortunately (but yet fortunately, more on that later) but the closest most of us will ever get is during these next ten days of teshuvah. We get an opportunity to look back at what we did, restart, and use the new year well. And if we do, it wipes the slate of the past clean.

Wishing all of you that 5776 be a year of growth, healing, blessing and light in all areas of life. See you at the Bais Hamikdash!

Change is good

When I cry out to G-d in a fit of frustration, it seems that the most often comment is– “Why so soon after the last test?! Can I not be allowed to breath freely or smile without worry for a minute?!” It seems that the tests come one after the other– as soon as one finishes, the next is less than a day away, and sometimes hours or even only 30 minutes past the last one. And I’m not talking about little things. I’m not going to get into an objective ‘is this an issue or not’ because we could spend all day topping each other; but to me at least, these are very big things. Things outside my ability to handle that can often take months to resolve.

The past two days have been the first two days of school. And, looking back, I really have had that break I asked for. Sure, I spent the first day back telling people not to hug me because my guts might fall out onto the floor (yes, I really was feeling that sick at first, and it was beyond hilarious when I said it to an over-enthusiastic teacher); I had a dilemma with my lunchbox and a horrible time with my safa diagnostic test, and I still don’t have my new headphones. But all of these, in the grand scheme of things, are pretty minor. Most importantly, I had the resilience to treat them as such.

But I’ve never laughed so much on the first day of school before. Ever. Or nearly any day, in fact. It turns out I can take better care of myself then I though, and so my health’s basically been stable. (To the utter shock of the resource room director, who’s known me for a while.) I won’t say the past two days have been so easy, but they’ve been amazing fun, amazing growth, and a lot of a lighter load then I’m used to getting from Above.

No doubt, even if I wasn’t ‘due’ for another test right now, writing this will seal the deal. But that’s ok. It won’t erase what a wonderful start of the year it’s been. I hope I’ll cherish these simple sweet memories for a while.

It’s ok to get upset when bad things happen. For me, acknowledging it’s hard, and that each test pushes me past what I think I can do, even as I usually come out ok, is how I get the strength to pull together and move on with life. But there’s a flip side. You have to knowledge the good. Believe it or not, I just did.

Thank you G-d, from the bottom of the healthy heart You gave me, written with the fingers that feel pretty good today, recognized with the amazing brain You gave me to use, on the computer that works well, for a day that was good not just in hindsight, but right here and now.