Warning: This post is pessimistic. Also, it may teach children bad values. (Chessed – loving-kindness – is a good thing, kiddies!)
High school. Remember it? Remember the excuses people had? “My dog ate my homework.” “I didn’t study for the test because my ____ (insert random relative) passed away.” “I’m sorry I’m late. I was helping an old lady cross the street.”
Well, I never used any of those excuses in high school, but you can believe how shocked I was to find myself using that last one two nights ago.
It was Friday night. My husband left for shul about 10 minutes before I did. We brought in Shabbat early because our wonderful dinner hosts were doing so and wanted to start dinner earlier as well. Not knowing how long it would take me to finish getting ready, I left my husband with the following instructions: If you see me after shul, great. If not, assume that I went straight to our dinner hosts.
All was going wonderfully. I was making great time and would have made it to shul well before the end of the evening prayer had it not been for that little, old lady who needed help crossing the street. She called out to me when I was only 5 minutes away from shul (our new apartment is about a 20 minute walk away). Still, how could I turn down this helpless old lady? Anyway, all she was asking was for help getting to the traffic circle. It couldn’t take more than a minute, right? Ten minutes later, as we were three quarters of the way to the traffic circle, the old lady – let us call her Miss Daisy – inquired as to where I was headed. I told her I was on my way to shul, bringing in Shabbat early. Upon hearing this, Miss Daisy decided that she wanted to come to shul as well, so we turned around and headed back in the other direction. Twenty minutes lost, no big deal. I might show up towards the end of davening, but at least I got to help an old lady!
Forty five minutes later, we hadn’t even covered half the ground between where she first stopped me and the shul. Convinced that davening was almost over, if not over already, I kept an eye out for my husband. I told her that the early prayers were probably over, but if she was interested to join the regular prayers at sunset to bring in Shabbat, she could maybe make it on time. Except when she found out how late they would end, she decided that she didn’t want to be out that late, and she didn’t want to ask me to leave early to walk her back home (WHAT?!), so I should just walk her back now. I tried explaining to her that I had to leave – that my husband and our hosts would be waiting for me – but she never got the picture. I wanted to cry. We turned around and retraced our footsteps from the past forty five minutes of walking.
Over this roughly hour and a half of walking, I kept thinking to myself, “Oh, this is horrible. Everyone will be waiting for me. I tried to do a good deed, but somehow it just went all wrong!” Meanwhile, Miss Daisy was recounting her entire life story: How she came to Israel from France, met her husband and got married when he was seventeen. How she worked as a secretary and was very good with a typewriter. How her husband had died two years earlier at the age of sixty four. How she was now sixty four years old (I promise you, she could not have been a day younger than ninety). When she told me her age, she asked me if she looked it. I thought she was pulling my leg – lying about her age to she if she could pass for thirty years younger. I decided to play along and agreed that she looked like a youthful sixty four. Then she told me that she was actually sixty, and when she moved to Israel the immigration office added four years to her age. Um… right.
Then she started asking me questions. If I was French. (No.) Am I married? (Yes, hence the head covering.) Do I have any kids? (No.) Why not? (How do I answer that?) What do I do? (Graphic design.) Does that involve computers? (Yes.) Could I teach her how to use her computer? (Um…) What does my husband do? (Programming.) Could he teach her to use her computer? (Um…) Where do I live? (Named the neighborhood.) Oh, she used to live there. What address? (It’s confusing.) She’s familiar with the area. What apartment number am I? (Lied about the number.) She has a friend who lives near there with seven kids… soon by you. (Me?!) She also has a daughter who lives near her with five kids and another on the way… soon by you. (More?!) She has another child in Bnei Brak and another one in France. They also have lots of kids… soon by you. (Okay…) It’s against the Torah to plan childbirth, did I know? (Riiiight.) Ten years ago she didn’t look like this. She went through menopause – do I know what that is? (Awkward.) – at age forty eight, and because of that her bones got weaker and she got osteoporosis and now she’s all hunchbacked. (I’m sorry.) She used to walk with a cane, but her doctor told her it was making her walk crooked. (Look out ma’am, you’re walking into a bush.) So she got a walker, but she wasn’t happy about it because it makes her look old. (Impossible! You look so young!) The nurses in the assisted living facility decorated her walker to make it more cheerful. Do I like it? (Um… I don’t believe that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is still alive, nor that he is the messiah, but… um… yes, very cheerful.) Do I like the kafiya on my head? (Um… a kafiya is an Arab headdress, generally check-patterned, like Arafat wore. What I’m wearing is called a headscarf… a mitpachat… Mit-Pa-Chat.)
And as we finally approached her assisted living facility…
Will I come inside to see her shul? (I’m sorry, but my husband is waiting for me.) It’s too bad that it’s Shabbat and she can’t take my phone number. (What a shame.) Will I come visit her? (We’ll see.) Her name is Miss Daisy and she lives on the third floor. (Good to know.) Do I have any friends who could teach her computers? (Any takers? Anyone? Anyone?) When I have a son, can I invite her to the brit-milah? She’ll even bring a present. (Wha-at?!)
After an additional three minutes of just saying goodbyes, I finally departed. Departed? Okay, I ran. I ran as fast as I could. I got to our hosts, but my husband had just left to go look for me. I left and found him, and together we returned to our dinner hosts, who were very gracious indeed about my holding them up for so long.
Lesson learned: I’ll never be taking that route to shul again.
Bottom line: An act of chessed for one person may be hell for another.