Tuesday, February 24, 2015

(Still) On the Subject of Do-gooders…

It occurred to me how preachy my last post came across. Not the first or last time I rode the preacher’s revival bus. I must have been one in a past life, though for the life of me (this life) I don’t remember. But I do recall both my parents, at times, suggesting I get off the preaching pedestal. That I did this as a wee toddler is charming and alarming at once.

I have a vivid recollection of trying this maneuver on a red-faced lady who was already pouring her day’s frustration on a little girl. Buses in Jerusalem were often crammed-full of sweaty passengers, riding sardine-tin style, and elbowing their way at their stop to the exit door, sometimes with brute force. Working people getting home at the end of a day, or making their way to appointments downtown, experienced the bus ride as one more ordeal they had to survive.
 It was easy to yell at a child who was wedged between much taller people, yearning to breathe and possibly getting a pocket of air in the space created by a bag of tomatoes and salad greens. Leaning against groceries should be a no-no, so the lady was right to yell at that child.
By the way, that child was little me.

“I’m so, so sorry. Really,” I said. “Is the tip of my nose disturbing your eggplant?”
The lady was speechless.

To be truthful, I stole that line. The day before, someone explained to me that in England, unlike in Israel, people were immensely polite. I was given an example of a “vedy British” line that went something like-- “Pardon me. Is my eyeball disturbing the tip of your umbrella?”
I envied the British for this, so I single-handedly went about britiifying my town, starting with the huffy lady on the bus. The lady’s face turned a good match to the tomatoes in her bag, and my mother elbowed me. Hard.

That failed childish effort is an excuse for what I do today, preach and teach. I long to do good and I yearn for fun. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
I have some venerable company in this~~~

“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
Mark Twain

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Wisdom of Good Deeds

People’s good deeds are used by the eternal as seeds for planting trees in the Garden of Eden: thus, each of us creates our own paradise.”
The Mezeritzer Rebbe

Good deeds are the best mood elevator.

Speaking about doing good is one of those things that sounds like one has run out of clichés, so we harvest others' clichés. 

It doesn't make it less true, just not original. 
Traditional communities have institutionalized this. Modern educational programs have returned to emphasize volunteering. Twelve-step programs are built on strugglers helping each other and thus helping themselves. 

The wisdom is old, perennial, and deep.

Doing for another will make you feel good. It’s not complicated. It’s not about being unselfish either; it’s the best way to help oneself. Even the Objectivists’ Philosophy of Selfishness acknowledges this.

The quotation from the Hassidic Rebbe makes it clear that, from the Jewish perspective, even a deed done without one’s heart in it becomes a building block to happiness.

didn't feel like it. I didn't feel much of anything, to be frank. But I went and did it anyway. I helped someone.

Like I said-- best mood elevator. 

Next time you reach for the pill bottle, or any bottle, or the remote control, or the illusion of control-- try this: tell yourself you can always do that later, after you've helped someone.

Reminder to self: Plant a tree today. After weeding, that is. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

This Day in History

I'm a fan of odd facts, sometimes called factoids. Not the mainstream, what everyone-and-their-cousin thinks is important, relevant, valid, and pertinent.
The other kind of facts.

The New York Times has a feature called “This day in history.” Unlike most reasonable people who read the headlines first, I go to this feature and immediately zero in on the least known most golly-gee item regarding something that happened on this calendar day a few or many years ago.

There are fantastic stories hidden in these factoids. I don't even care if they actually happened. If I never write about that particular item, it still has the effect of jump-starting the storyteller in me.

For example, February 10th. That’s today.

Many important things happened on this day in history. Some of them are even mentioned by the NYT, and more can be found on the Internet. Significant people were born and died on this day, and treaties were signed while others were violated. Yada-yada-yada.

But what caught my imagination was something that happened four-hundred and eighty years ago.
On February 10th, 1535, twelve nude Anabaptists ran through the streets of Amsterdam.
I have a brother who lives in Amsterdam. He would likely say that twelve nude folks would not raise an eyebrow there today. But in 1535 I suspect there was a whole lot more to the story than an attention getting prank. Apparently they were shouting, “Truth is naked!” and paid for this act with their lives. Running naked in Amsterdam wouldn't even get you fined today.

See what I mean? There is a story there. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Crazy Cat Ladies

Somehow I just know I will wind up a crazy cat lady.
How do I know?

When visiting an old friend, I discovered she had become one. Instead of rubbing my hands in desperation at her state of affairs and thinking how I might help her deal with her predicament, I found myself envious. She has fifteen cats she’s responsible for. I have only three. She is twelve cats richer, and twelve cats luckier than I am.

If you are one who finds one cat a cat too many, you will not understand. If you find each cat to be a precious masterpiece, you know what I mean. Just look at her deck on a balmy Saturday morning. Not all fifteen felines were there then, but those who were made it glorious.
Hemingway said, “One cat just leads to another.” I don't know if he liked cats. I suspect as a manly man he probably didn’t. You can't control cats, just marvel at their grace and perfection. Manly men usually prefer dogs. Dogs come when they’re called. Cats take a message and get back to you later. When they do get back to you, you feel either annoyed or honored. Only the latter, those who feel honored, would begin to understand this post.

The notion that cats are solitary is false. They live in colonies when they are feral, and make cozy families when they are household pets. Mine lick each other and cuddle with each other every day. My friend’s fifteen cats were civilized eating their breakfast. No pushing, shoving, or a hiss in sight. Just a decorous glorious feast. See?

I know. I’m doomed already.