While on vacation, my daughter and I went to a bagel store for lunch. It was quite crowded and we were lucky to get a table in the corner. A few minutes later, I commented on how it had emptied out so quickly. Whereas before, nearly every table was full, now, mainly just tables on the outskirts of the restaurant, like ours, remained populated.
And it was a good thing, too, because as we were eating, we heard a loud, “THUD,” and saw that a large tile from the drop ceiling had suddenly come loose and crashed down onto one of the now-unoccupied tables. The other diners, like us, were jarred, and we were grateful that we hadn’t sat at that table.
As we reflected on this, I said, “Can you imagine what would have happened if we’d been sitting there and it fell on us and our food?” And I began to imagine. I thought of the shrieking that would likely have ensued (not from my daughter – from me) at being startled like that. I considered how upset I might have gotten at the restaurant staff or owners, though obviously this was not something they had planned for or expected to happen.
As I did so, I realized that I probably would have been incensed and indignant about something completely beyond the control of the bagel shop, unless, of course, they knew that the ceiling was in disrepair. It would have been for naught, as I’m sure they would have gladly seated us elsewhere, replaced our food, and maybe even make some other accommodation to make up for our fright. It’s just because I was caught off guard that I would have thought the sky was falling.
[In case you’re not familiar with the phrase, it’s from a children’s book where someone makes a bigger deal out of something than they need to, imagining the sky is falling and the world coming to an end because an acorn fell off a tree and hit them on the head.]
Being able to look at the scene from the outside, I was able to consider how I might react in the future if it ever happened to me. Having already given the situation some rational thought in the semi-calm of my only being a spectator, I believe I’d be less likely to lose my head if I was involved in such an event. By witnessing what happened and considering what might have happened, I learned how to better handle a challenge like that.
Another time, my daughter called me from the car, telling me she was shaking uncontrollably. She’d been driving somewhere and had to cross a railroad track. As she was about halfway across, the bells began clanging and the gates began to come down. The problem was that the truck in front of her had stopped and she couldn’t move forward, off of the tracks!
Terrified, she leaned on her horn to no avail. There must have been a red light ahead and traffic was stopped. People in front couldn’t know the peril in which she found herself. Finally, the truck moved and she was able to get off the tracks before the train came. But she was still shaking.
As I tried to comfort her, I also said, “Well, I guess now we learn not to cross a railroad track unless we have enough room to get completely across it.” I wasn’t criticizing her. I was trying to learn from the close call so we never get into the situation where it’s closer.
This is a fantastic strategy for dealing with life’s challenges. Hashem is trying to teach us something; calling out to us. Sometimes we don’t hear Him until He gets in our faces. Other times, He tries warning us by having us witness things, or going through challenges and disappointments in rather minor areas.
If we get the message, we can save ourselves a lot of aggravation and pain down the road. If we ignore the messages, then Hashem will keep sending them in multiple ways, and with more frequency or intensity, until we finally learn what we need to.
This is alluded to by the Chofetz Chaim, who said that by sharing in the pain of others, we can avoid having pain of our own. He also said that by accepting what Hashem sends us with love, we can skip the long, drawn-out suffering, as we’ve accomplished what needed to be accomplished.
So the next time things seem to be going wrong all around you, and you think the sky is falling, take a step back and see if maybe there’s a pattern. It might not be the sky falling, but Heaven calling. Do yourself a favor and try to pick up the message.
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