Ask for money, you get stories. Posing as a fundraiser for the Havurah, I heard tales that were hopeful, sad, self-pitying, inspiring. And in two life stories, I discovered an unexpected relationship between personal history and present attitude.
The first story was of a man I’d call one of the Lucky Ones. Oh, he had a mildly troubled growing-up but, as the great humorist Peter DeVries wrote: “I guess I can say my childhood was as unhappy as the next braggart”. And there was an early failed marriage and some disappointments with adult children. But nothing really catastrophic. And now, in mid-life, he had a pretty new wife, was in good health, had enough money and no obvious problems looming. Was he content? No. He was worried and pessimistic to the point of being fearful. Why? Because his reality was that there were disasters lurking out there and it was only a matter of time until he got his. So, in a symbolic effort to protect himself, he pledged well beneath his level of income and life-style.
The other story was of a woman who was clearly one of the Unlucky Ones. Her life had been a series of soap opera disasters – from childhood abuse to clinical depression, a beloved husband dead of cancer and a daughter struggling with an addiction. Yet, she was cheerful and optmistic and her contribution (which she apologized for having to pay out over many months) was far in excess of the normal percentage of income.
Why the disparity? Well, each of us is different for different reasons. But I believe that the woman, unlike her more fortunate counterpart, had been tested by Life and knew she could survive. She had shed “midnight tears” and discovered that it is in the cracked and broken places that Hashem enters and heals. Certainly, she was no Pollyanna; she knew there would be more bad news coming sometime, maybe soon. But she felt those times were also be opportunities to experience G-d in even deeper ways.
So the next time I encounter someone for whom life has gone unusually well, I will feel some compassion for an untested character. And when I meet a person who has been unfortunate, will ask to be blessed with their knowingness that Hashem is there when we need Him.
Thanks to everone for the stories and, oh yes, the pledges, too.