Three Vignettes


*Running out*

Toilet paper. At the start of the pandemic, there was a run on the stuff. Off all shelves. Out of stores. Throughout the land.
I never worried about it.
And there was no need to worry.
I don’t know of anyone who ran out.
Peopleshared what they had until supplies were replenished.
And yeast.
No yeast to be found. Throughout the land.
We adapted.
Sourdough breads borne from wild yeasts became the rage, and my neighbors—knowing I make a weekly challah—gifted me packets they had on hand until I could get a full jar.
We made do until supplies were replenished.
But hope.
The scarcity of hope does worry me. Because the lack of hope is desperation—and, indeed, the word desperate itself means as much—de “without” + sperare “to hope.”
As the deuteronomist wrote, “humankind does not live on bread alone.”
We need hope. A little light. Some faith in the future.
I’ll tell you what: if you find yourself out of hope, you can borrow some of mine.

*In the passenger seat*

Before I get into the passenger seat of my friend Bill’s car, I don’t know that he isn’t a strong driver, but I quickly become aware.
(This was pre-COVID.)
Afraid I am not being subtle as I do so, I quickly look above my head to the right, see the “oh-shit grip,” and wonder how I will latch onto it without insulting him. But, safety first. I reach for it and grab on.
I can’t figure out what to say.
I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
Moreover, me pointing he’s not a good driver isn’t going to help the situation in any way.
(While our desire to point out obvious flaws is strong, logic and compassion dictate being kinder ought to be stronger. What help could adding my shame bring to the situation?)
As he somewhat violently jerks his head to check for cars to our left, I attempt small talk, modulating my voice to sound natural.
In hindsight, I wish I had just said, honestly—without heat behind it—“So, Bill, you aren’t really a strong driver, are ya?”
Then the elephant could be acknowledged.
He turns the car right. And, pow! I realize, had it been Jane who was driving this way, I most probably would have snarkily expressed my displeasure, letting her know that I expect more from her.
But, I don’t with Bill.
Why? Why would I lash out at Jane and not at Bill?
Because. It’s simple. I’m not married to Bill.
With those with whom we are not very familiar, we tend to be more open, forgiving, accepting.
This is why people—back in the day when we took flights—routinely had great conversations with their seatmates.
We have good manners with those we don’t know and poor manners with those closest to us.
Maya Angelou—with whom I have imagined both meals and pillow talk—said, “If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘good morning’ at total strangers.”
She’s right.
But I want to take this contrast between how we treat the person in seat 11E, with whom we are not familiar, and our dearest folk in a different direction.
For a moment, think about how you react to the disappointments of daily life. For example, imagine you were expecting a package and it didn’t arrive.
Do you treat the world, the universe, reality as a partner with whom you’ve been in a long term relationship? Do you mutter, either aloud or to yourself, some expletive? Do you let the world know your disappointment?
Or are you kinder?
Might you, like me in Bill’s passenger seat, stifle the need to chastise?
Perhaps we could—as I imagine Maya might suggest—call it out honestly, without heat behind it, “So, universel, you aren’t really organized and efficient, are ya?”

*Complaint department*

I would put off whining students (or my children) with some version of, “The complaint department opens at 3:15 today. Please, do come back then.”
Hearing about some issues faced by individuals in my spiritual direction practice made me consider, “What if I could open up a complaint department of the universe?”
Coincidentally last week, and you might not believe it, my buddy Pen-uel, an archangel in the department of records and art, forwarded the PDFs — Formal Complaint Forms for the courts of the heavens.
You can download one here.
The two main questions on the form are:

  1. What is the nature of your complaint?
  2. What do you imagine would lead to resolution?

So, as a thought exercise, consider what you might write—or, even better, print out the form and fill it in.
And, while waiting for your paperwork to be processed, you might muse upon (1) what you expect the response to might be, (2) what responses might surprise you, and (3) what led you to have these ideas.

Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer resides in Portland, Oregon. He is the founder and head of Religion-Outside-The-Box oldrotb.wpengine.com, an internet-based, global group of 3.2K+ digital-age seekers. ROTB produces excellent spiritual content.

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