Thursday, August 27, 2015

I Reflect

We were ask to lead a summer service.  Eric usually provides an erudite "sermon" but he would be not be motivated to do so this year.  So I wrote this.  

August 21, 2015
In my email box this week, along with offers to buy books, furniture, vacations and enhancements for body parts I do not possess, as well as encouragement to support political causes on both the left and the right, (I will never understand just how I got on the  Townhall- mailing list) was  a message from Rabbi Ballan reminding me that this is the month of Elul a time to prepare for judgement both G-d’s and my own. 
In the event that  that I skip over all those tempting offers in the other emails, the rabbi offered this prayer .
God, help me through the days of Elul to prepare myself for the New Year with its promise of new life for my body and my soul.
Help me face questions I wish to avoid!
Help me accept truths that do not comfort!
I wish to journey to the light, but the path to it is hidden by all the promises I never kept, by the goodness I deserted.
May the words from the past show me the way of return.
I begin the road of repentance. Meet me, God, as I journey on it.

*From Kol Haneshamah: p. 805

In the late 1970s, early 1980’s just as I began my teaching career, the show the White Shadow, starring Ken Howard as a former professional basketball player turned high school teacher and coach, aired on CBS.  I watched every week, if for no other reason, to see how much better he coped in the world of the inner city school , then I did.  Despite the fact that I could not get a basketball within in ten feet of a standard hoop- (a cause for great mirth at most recess periods) I figured if he could survive, so could I. 
Despite my commitment to avid watching, there is only one scene I really clearly remember from the show.  And it didn’t even contain Howard.  A woman, in the mists of time I can no longer remember her position at the school,  comforted a student who was upset.
And what she said to student has remained with my all these years. 
She said:  Her mother told her there were four types of people in this world. 
People who like you for the right reason,
People who like you for the wrong reason
People who dislike you for right reason and
People who dislike you for the wrong reason.
And the only group you ever have to worry about is those that dislike you for the right reason.
On one of the overheated days on the fourth floor of the hundred year old  unairconditioned high school I worked in, I ticked April off.  I don’t remember exactly what I said or did but she was angry and responded with the comment-  what I really don’t like about you is your always interrupting the other teacher,  when we act out you discipline us but then you take over and don’t let her finish her thoughts.

I reacted the way, I learned to over the years to react when a student insulted me.  I ignored the comment and prayed for the bell to ring soon

I would have ended there – except the next day after class, April approached me to apologize. 
I was hot and tired and I was rude to you and should have never spoken to you that way, she told me.
And for some reason the scene from the White Shadow flooded back to me.  I told her the piece about the four kinds of people in the world and realized,  just why I was telling it.
Yes April is 16 and a student in my class and it was rude and disrespectful to speak to me like that.
But she was right.
When she made the comment she fell squarely into the category of those who disliked me for the right reason.
And out place or not, her comment shouldn’t be ignored. It is a truth that does not comfort.
Eric and I wish to thank you for allowing us to lead the service tonight and we hope the month of Elul brings all of us offers, electronic or otherwise that’s fulfillment makes us happy, political news that helps us all heal the world a little bit, and the time and space to reflect deeply and fruitfully on the people who didn’t like you this year for the right reason so that we look forward to a the new year with its promise for a new life for our bodies and soul.