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Giving What You’ve Got

Giving What You’ve Got

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There are times when we all wish for it. For a tiny little genie wearing some cute little piper’s hat to pop out of a clear vintage Coke bottle and grant us our one wish. For me, that wish was to have a coffee with G‑d. And just talk. Two ways.

Sometimes this desire was evoked by happy tidings, when I could just pour forth gratitude and tell my Creator how blessed, fortunate and content I felt. There were times I wanted to know why G‑d had bestowed so much goodness upon me. Yet there were challenging times too, and that is when I felt I so strongly needed this wish to be granted, so that I could converse with Him, try to understand and do what I was supposed to do to get past whatever pain I was dealing with.

I’m sorry, it doesn’t look like he is going to make itThroughout time, I have learned though that communication is open, on both ends, and that we can talk, cry, plead, thank, embrace, and even make deals with G‑d. And He really answers. He shows us. He tells us. He inspires us to take our life experiences, whatever they may be, and grow from them and allow them to be a guiding light.


January 1, 2012

Four years have passed since that day. The day I was supposed to become a mother. The day when my hands were empty, yet my heart was full of hope, as my first child’s due date passed. That was certainly a day I needed to talk to G‑d. A day I needed to understand.

January 1, 2008

In midst of all the craziness and running around, I keep on envisioning you being born. “Push, push, push—oh—it’s a boy! Look how gorgeous he is...he looks just like you both...oh my, something is terribly wrong, your child is sick—paging emergency medical team...I’m sorry, it doesn’t look like he is going to make it...” And I’d hold you, a piece of me, in my arms. And I would love you unconditionally, because you would have been my child...

Maybe you would have been connected to tubes, or maybe I wouldn’t even have been able to hold you because you’d be on a respirator or in an incubator, but I’d like to think that for a moment you were in my arms. And I looked at you and I saw past the illness and deformities; you were my child, and nothing in the world would be able to break that love and compassion. And then you were taken from me and hooked up to lots of machines, your tiny, fragile, innocent body suffering with pain. I can almost see you looking at me . . .

You see, people tell me that it’s better that you weren’t born, better that you were lost in middle of a pregnancy rather than dealing with the loss of a child. They say you had triploidy 69, an extra set of chromosomes. You would not have lived long. It would have been so much more difficult. I’m not asking for that challenge. Ever. But you should know that not a part of me didn’t want you. I still want you. You’re perfect in your perfection. I promise you, I love you so much. I wanted you to be born so badly. I feel like G‑d didn’t even give my compassion a chance, didn’t give me a chance to be a mother and accept you with love for what you would have been. I feel denied. Rejected. I promise you, I wouldn’t have let G‑d down had you been born.


It’s hard to remember and it’s easy to forget. I’m not a very outspoken person, but I am a very much a passionate idealist at heart. And I definitely try to make my idealism practical, as it is useless otherwise.

I hate to use movie stars’ quotes as a guideline for life, but I must say that I once read a quote by Jennifer Aniston in the back of Reader’s Digest, and amidst a “One of those days . . .” where my children were testing my pretty fine patience levels and my voice had risen a couple of decibels louder than intended, I recalled the quote I had read. And decided to make it practical.

My memory won’t allow me to repeat what I read verbatim; it was over two years ago. Here goes, not as eloquently, but the concept remains the same: “Many a people say that they would donate their kidney to a complete stranger, yet the very same people wouldn’t let a car pass in front of them on the thruway while stuck in a traffic jam.”

And, while standing in the middle of a pile of Cheerios, a really big dispersed pile, with two sad-looking berated two-year-old twins, and a newborn baby relentlessly crying for some food, it was then that I had an epiphany.

It’s so easy to be compassionate to those who are needy in whichever way. Kindness flows so easily to those who are unfortunately ill, handicapped, destitute and in pain. I clearly recall those days, being angry that G‑d did not allow my true strength of heart to be tested; that He did not have faith in me that I could rise to the occasion of caring for a sick child.

I clearly recall those days, being angry that G‑d did not allow my true strength of heart to be testedWe are all big talkers. We say that we can give so much in trying times. Just like the person who would give his kidney to a stranger, but can’t slow down to let the dude in the red sports car get in front of him while stuck in Monday morning rush hour. Same for me: if I truly have so much faith in my levels of compassion, then why can I be so kindhearted toward an unhealthy baby, but lose my patience so easily with my perfectly healthy twins? Why can I be so gentle with children who have special needs, yet find myself impatiently criticizing my healthy child’s idiosyncrasies? Why do I get frustrated when my child wakes me in the middle of the night with a nightmare? Where is my sympathy? Why do I hit the roof when my child kvetches? Where is my maternal endurance? Why is it that my heart goes out to those who have less than I do, and why can’t I channel that idealistic love, patience and kindness into my most practical day-to-day routine?

And why is it that I find it easier to be kind to a complete stranger than to the ones with whom we live and essentially love the most? We so easily pardon the woman behind us in line whose children are acting so out of line, yet, when it comes to our own, we break so easily. Sometimes we are so polite and generous to those we don’t know: we listen patiently, we offer food, give charity, lend a helping hand, compliment, or even just tolerate. So why is that I, that we human beings, are like that? Why can we so passionately give to those who are bereft, yet find it so hard to give that little bit more to those we take care of every day?


My husband is a rabbi. He often tells this story. It’s simple, yet brilliant.

Many years ago, in some faraway beat-up tavern, a group of some very drunk peasants were lauding the great general Napoleon. They sang his praises. They spoke admiringly of his strength.

One man swaggered to the center of the room and proudly exclaimed, “If I were so wealthy, I would build the most royal palace, shining with precious gems, for the great Napoleon.”

Cheers.

The next man promised to build Napoleon a golden chariot.

More cheers.

And the dedications came rolling in . . . luxurious robes, silver goblets, carved treasure chests, rubles upon rubles, treasures upon treasures . . .

One simple man took the throne. He quieted the crowd, slitted his eyes, and in his very coarse, maybe not-so-drunk voice, simply asked, “Would you give Napoleon your one chicken?”

Why is it that I find it easier to be kind to a complete stranger than to the ones with whom we live and essentially love the most?No more cheers and no more dedications. Silence. Not one individual was willing to give Napoleon a chicken. A royal palace, a golden chariot—yes—they did not own it. It was beyond their capacity. Yet in their poverty-stricken drunkness, they knew that they could not give away their chicken, because a chicken—that they did have.


In a world gone insane, in times of diversity, pettiness, and tragedy, it’s effortless to feel overwhelmingly helpless.

There have been so many times in my own life when I wanted to build royal palaces, create golden chariots and heap on treasure chests of gold; so many times when I wanted to take away people’s pain, erase my friends’ burdens, place a child in a childless couple’s arms, breathe life into the dying, and fix anything miserable or rotten in this world.

So, for all you passionate idealists: we can say that we would like to donate our kidneys, yet perhaps letting the dude cut us off during Monday morning rush hour would be just as great indeed.

We all have been blessed with many resources. Each one of you. Some of you have been blessed with wisdom and knowledge. Some of you have been blessed with wealth. Some of you are talented. Some, energetic and efficient. Creative. Funny. Caring. You each have something uniquely yours. To give. Maybe you don’t have an endless gold supply or fountains of wealth, but you each have a “chicken,” and that, you can give. And you don’t have to reserve it for Napoleon; you can give it to the very ones you love the most.

Mina Richler co-directs the Chabad Center of Gloucester County, New Jersey, with her husband.
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Dr. Avraham ben Rafael April 30, 2012

...and the answer is???? A good question,"And why is it that I find it easier to be kind to a complete stranger than to the ones with whom we live and essentially love the most?"
I point out that the author has not directly answered the question. One possible answer is - the "complete stranger" is ( initially) an unknown entity and you have no previous experience or prejudice in your interaction. Those "ones with whom we live" have a track record and the relationship is inescapably affected by the biases generated from those experiences. Most of the time, those PREVIOUS experiences determine how one's FUTURE interactions will be structured. Reply

sue Kanata, ON April 29, 2012

Just Be You There's a simple rule of thumb. You're already with and a part of G-; you already have the keys to all of the gifts. Just being yourself (and improving yourself, too) promotes the love and the light. Even if you think of it as a chicken! Reply

sara grossman n.y., n.y. April 25, 2012

great message! and a great read! And good advise on being able to make this world a better place, by each one of us. Reply

Anonymous Santa Cruz , CA April 25, 2012

Thank you Thank you so much, that was beautiful. And you have inspired me. Reply

Anonymous Cleveland, OH April 25, 2012

Thank you. Wow...what a great piece of writing !
I especially appreciate your succinct style.
I love the idea of stopping to take a look at what I DO have and CAN do instead of what's lacking or seemingly impossible. Reply

Anonymous April 24, 2012

to the point! Thank you so much! I think all mothers share the feeling. Even more if we're working, giving to others the best of our day and coming back home having our kids pay for our lack of patience.. I'll certainly try my best and think about your article in the intent. Reply

Anonymous Port Moody, Canada April 23, 2012

Giving Thank you.
Your story and it's message is an eloquent yet simple reminder for me that it is always easier to give in the ideal abstracted from practical realities.
Please continue to share your thoughts as they are useful in my everyday world.
Carol Reply

Yochanna Holden, USA April 23, 2012

Giving What You've Got Dear Mina, Thank you for your sharing.It's painful to hear and my heart aches for you but what strength you have . I pray for such strength and ask for many blessings for you.Sincerly, Yochanna Reply

Anonymous Jlm, Israel April 23, 2012

Thank you thank you for such a deep and thought provoking article. Reply

Ettie Shurack BC, Canada April 23, 2012

Thank you for the eloquent article & beautiful message! Reply