Three Rabbi Brian mini-stories.
Let them be
The Fontainebleau’s lavishly-decorated ballroom is filled with florists, musicians tuning instruments, and a bevy of coordinators buzzing about. In an hour, in a black robe, I will walk down the aisle and officiate at this swanky black-tie affair.
Carrie, my favorite South Beach coordinator (and one of my favorites of all time), alerted me that the groom’s parents are in Shimmer. Shimmer is the name of the middle, fourth-floor conference room. (Between Flitter and Flash.) “They want to say hello to the rabbi.”
I enter, smiling.
“Hello, hello, hello,” I say, “How lovely to meet you.”
I shake dad’s hand as he juggles the small plate of food from his right hand to left. Mom is still seated. I reach for her hand.
“Rabbi,” she says, as she takes my hand in both of hers. She looks up at me, as a scorned puppy-dog might, with a tinge of resentment, “Isn’t it a shame that she isn’t Jewish?”
I manage to say, “She is just lovely and so kind. I’m so glad they found each other.”
She sing-songs, “He could have found someone just as lovely and kind who is Jewish.”
I pivot the conversation to confirm the time we will be signing the marriage license.
I exit and take the escalator down to call Jane. I want to debrief.
Jane says, “This woman has enough money to fly you to Miami, put you up in a fancy hotel, pay your fee and expenses, and she is that miserable? Let her be.”
Someone is an asshole? Let them be.
The log on the left
The second time I bumped my shin into the log on the left side of the hot tub, it hurt as much as, if not more than, the first time. Even though this time there was no blood.
But, this time, there was greater self castigation.
Why? Because I *should* have known better. Right? After all, I’d banged into it before.
You know how they say people teach what they need to learn?
I teach about compassion because my instinct is to kick my own ass when I make a mistake.
Of course, I ought not to have kicked my own ass about not remembering that the log was there.
Because had I remembered, I wouldn’t have walked into it again.
But I didn’t remember.
So, logically, why am I going to criticize myself for something I didn’t remember?
Moreover, here’s another thing —I do not remember any of the times that I walked on the left side of the hot tub and sidestepped the log.
Because all of those times I sidestepped the log!
And that’s how our brains work.
Our brains are wired to remember the negatives more than the positives.
You don’t have to like it.
But it’s still true.
We remember the negative more than the positive or neutral.
Smart folk reason that natural selection had something to do with this. Our ancestors were the ones who could remember which foods caused horrible cramping. Those who didn’t remember the negatives didn’t fare so well in the long run.
Remembering that it’s an evolutionary thing to remember the negative brings me comfort.
And it helps me to remember and avoid the log lurking on the left side of the hot tub.
I’m about fifteen years old. At the East Lodge. The one with the outdoor pool. Here in Torrington, Connecticut. Where my folks have a weekend house.
It’s summer. I am on a chaise, under an umbrella (I get burned easily), hoping my crush, Rachel, would be here.
But she’s not.
I pick up a book on my summer reading list, A Tale of Two Cities, and start to read.
Suddenly, “Swim, Jonathan, swim,” breaks through all of the other noise.
It’s one of those slow motion moments.
Everyone hears it.
And, we hear coughing. Ugly coughing.
The woman, I suppose Jonathan’s mom, stands at the edge of the deep end. Her panicked, Fran Dreshereque, New York accent shouts: “Swim!”
Everyone is quiet. Staring at the pool.
And, then, we see the woman bend lift Jonathan out of the pool and gently put a towel around his shivering body.
The regular sounds of the pool resume.
I get lost in my thoughts:
>Did she think he forgot that swimming might be the best solution to his problem?
>Did she expect him to get out of the pool and say, “Gee, Mom, thanks so much for the hint. I totally forgot about swimming for a moment. That was so helpful.”
Of course, I have compassion for his mom. She was acting on instinct, and I would probably have said the same.
I think of this scene when I hear someone, or myself, exclaim to another person — “Just calm down.”
As though the other person hadn’t thought of that!
They know and want to calm down. Just like Jonathan wanted to swim.
So, instead of telling them to calm down, better, I can help them calm down by making them feel safe and heard.