A little bit of change

I was taking public transit home after spending some time with friends, a good hour’s journey direct from home. To return, I needed to take two buses, and due to a mishap at the first bus stop (the station that actually didn’t exist, and was also two intersections away from where the schedule said it was,) I didn’t have the exact change I would need to get on the second bus.

After confirming that only exact change would get me a ticket, I asked the kind-looking woman sitting opposite me if she had change to exchange for a small bill. She said she didn’t, apologized, and then began to look in every pocket of her bag on the off chance that she did after all.

There was an elderly couple sitting in front of her, who overheard the discussion. The gentleman passed me a handful of small change, and asked if it would help. I explained that I was just trying to get smaller change, and showed him the bill. He and the wonderful woman beside him insisted that I just take the money, as it wasn’t very much, and not to worry that they didn’t have enough change to make an exchange. It made a huge difference to me, and I conveyed my appreciation as much as possible.

***

The trip was meant to just be three friends hanging out together and enjoying the vast nature surrounding us, and it was peaceful, gorgeous, and a chance to get to know everyone a little better and make a stronger connection. And those 24 hours were all that, and more. The friend who was the host is a holy lady, and while we were eating breakfast together on the front porch, she mentions that she was about to do her daily Tanya study. Knowing that I’m usually interested in whatever she’s learning, she offered to read it aloud. Given that, while I was interested in learning Tanya but knew almost nothing, and the ‘cycle’ of lessons is currently near the end, she had to explain a few concepts to me as we learned. One of them was how our world is made up of G-d’s holy light, contracted and ‘scrunched up’ many, many times, and that the world we see is the barest fraction of the true power and glory of the Almighty. (It sounds much better in her words, or in the original Hebrew.)

While we paused to let my brain take all of this in, I was looking around at the trees surrounding the porch, and the clearing that showed so much of the land. I realized that there are billions of trees, and no two are truly identical – and each one is beautiful in some way. After spending some time there, I could appreciate tree differences very well. There are billions of trees in the world, and billions of people, and countless other beautiful and unique beings of all sorts. And this is only a fraction of a fraction of G-d’s power and majesty and creative light? My mind was blown, but in a good way. We finished learning, finished breakfast, and went out to collect mosquito bites (sorry, to see the fields and the butterflies and the garden and the pond,) and this echoed around in the back of my mind. It really changed the way I saw everything.

I’m sorry for rambling – I’m so tired, but I wanted to get this post out before Shabbat. I may edit for clarity soon. Have a wonderful Shabbat, readers!

Compassionate Convenience

My sister and I were walking home from the bus stop and preparing to go our usual route home. However, the route we normally took was obstructed. The only way to get to my street was to walk all the way to the end of the street and around. That’s a lot of walking.

As my sister and I looked around, stewing over what to do, a construction worker noticed our hesitance.

“Are you trying to get across?” he yelled from the road.

“Yeah,” we shouted back.

“Okay, then I’ll stop traffic for you,” he said calmly, as if it was nothing at all.

My sister and I looked at each other in disbelief and expressed our utmost thanks to the man.

“No problem,” he said, and we crossed without mishap.

 

Thanks are in order to all those compassionate construction workers out there!

Speaking from the heart

Note from Lucky: My apologies for how few posts have gone up recently, owing to technical difficulties such as having only 24 hours in a day, among other things. We hope to stop having to make these apologies soon, by actually posting at least twice a week.

One of, in my opinion, the most inspiring type of speeches are the ones with personal stories. The person sharing their story serves as a living mashal of the idea they teach. And the more deeply personal and ‘real’ the story is, the more emotion and life the speaker conveys, the better the audience can absorb it.

What I realized tonight is that these stories aren’t always easy to tell. What it means for most speakers is reaching into your deepest, often most personal memories, evoking strong emotions, and sharing those private thoughts in a clear, coherent manner. That gift they give over is what makes the speech so powerful, but it’s not an easy thing to do. Try to imagine doing it yourself for a moment…

And now you know why speakers so appreciate our thanks and appreciation. The more you show it, the more they can keep on giving, knowing it was worth the effort.

Supernaturally Kind

A story Mim collected from one of our readers (You had to be there to see it, but we left the story in her words so you can get as much of it as possible.)

The other day I was in math class. I was walking behind a friend of mine who was sitting down and out of the blue she reached up and gave me the warmest hug. she turned to face me as she said “Who am I hugging right now?” and when she saw me and said “Shira!” with the sweetest smile. Then she said “I just needed to hug you because as you walked by I really felt your good vibes.” I was so touched! I wasn’t having the best day and she brightened my mood!

Warmth in the wet

A post Mim collected from one of our readers

One time I was at the bus stop after school waiting for the bus to come. It was a rainy, windy day and the stop shelter was filled with people trying to escape the weather. I managed to squeeze in at the opening but the wind was blowing the rain into me, and since I was only wearing a thin jacket it was really cold. The woman behind me had an umbrella and, seeing that I was shivering, held it in front of me to block the rain. Every time I shifted she angled the umbrella differently so it would continue to shield me. When the bus finally came, she held the umbrella over both of us as we left the stop. She didn’t know who I was, but she did one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me and I will never forget it.

Prayer is Power

One night, I was lying in bed thinking about my life, specifically the not so good parts. I thought about someone who I’d done many not -so-kind things too, and I knew there was no way to make it up for her. So, I sent up a quick teffilah that G-d should send her an extra measure of goodness and bracha in her life.

Not even a week later, I hear that she survived a potentially near-death experience. That nighttime bracha came to mind. Prayer is powerful, people!

Thank you for the nagging

I’ve got a bad habit. A fairly harmless one, that many people do. I know I need to work on it, and yet I justify it. ‘I need it to cope.’ ‘I am working on it… a little.’ ‘I’m working on so many midot (traits), I’m just not up for this one yet.’ ‘I’ll be counterproductive, cuz I’ll just end up being resentful and doing it more.’ These were all valid points; I gave the matter some thought, and they went from real excuses to a battle plan for the future. But still, I was doing pretty poorly in the here and now.

Let’s use an example, for simplicity’s sake, and say this trait was complaining. I don’t whinge about the little minor things ‘oh, we have to share a bus with xyz’ or at least, what I call the little things (I guess the vending machine not being plugged in when I’m falling asleep and want soda is kind of a medium thing,) but I didn’t think I’d ever be one of those people who just quietly absorbed whatever life threw at them. a) They’re all tazadikeses and b) It just wouldn’t work for me. I need to get stuff out of my system, in order to stay healthy and sane. My friends have learned to live with it, and I’ve learned to pick a new friend each time I want to vent (or whatever my bad habit really is.)

So all the anti-complaining messages I’ve been hearing pretty heavily the past year (in a general sense, eg. school-wide campaign, never directed at me) just dropped my self esteem, left me defensive, made me resentful and justifying everything, and on occasion, left me in tears. (Inadvertently. It wasn’t her fault, she was only trying to help.) I just told myself everything you read above, and it was true. But it also seeped in.

I still indulge in my bad habit; I know I just need to let my feelings out. But I’ve also started paying more attention, in small sometimes subconscious steps. ‘Ok, so she needs to know I was sick for a week, but can I say it in a more positive way?’ ‘Ok, I need to vent, but how quickly can I change the topic?’ ‘Can I push off saying this for five minutes (at which point I will promptly forget it?)’ ‘Can I ask about her day first?’ I think it has less to do with a shift in behavior, and more just to do with having a more positive mindset, and realizing that my friends don’t always need to deal with this, even if they’re happy to. I just try and ‘vent’ in a more positive, long term, cheerful tone, and it takes the edge off. I’ll catch myself as soon as I feel better and not go on any longer.

So, this is a very long post to say a very short thing; To all the persistent, annoying, cheerful, inflexible, nagging people/messages over the past year, thank you for being that. I guess that future time I was going to start changing is now. Now, to work on my procrastination… let’s discuss it later 😛

Just because

Yesterday, I saw something my brother had been wanting for a long long while on sale, literally across the street from my school. I offered to pick it up for him, and collected the money. I told him I’d get it today if I could, or by Monday if not. Getting sick and spending lunch in the office was not part of the plan. (When is it?) I knew I could to it another day, but I always feel better when the easy to-do’s are crossed off my list right away. I spotted a friend coming into the office to deal with something else, and on impulse, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind picking it up for me.

It was a serious long shot, and I double checked that she didn’t mind when she said yes. But she confirmed my instructions, went out, and came back ten minutes later with the item, with the receipt and change like I’d asked for. So that’s one point for agreeing so well, one point for making it not feel like a big deal, one point for checking my instructions, one point for being fast, and 10 points for getting the job done properly. I was so appreciative, and she really helped make my brother’s day. It’s nice to know people are looking out for you.

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.)

Literally Running for the Mitzvah

On the bus home this afternoon, I became aware of a commotion. Two girls had gotten off earlier than their usual spot, and the other riders wanted to know if the twins’ older sister was coming too.

“No,” she said. So why had they gotten off, and in such a hurry? “(Classmate) left her phone on the bus. They wanted to give it back to her. So off they ran, three blocks I think, and four back.

Kol HaKavod!