My favorite teacher once pointed out that we don’t only choose our battles, we also choose where to show kindness. This lesson made a great impact on me because, despite having a mind like a sieve, I saw it in the relationships around me. If I loved someone who was a nosy-body and spoke loudly, I’d say, “She’s the life of the party” and “She loves people.” But if someone I disliked possessed the same qualities, I might say, “What a yenta” and “She sucks the air out of the room.” Same qualities, but the reaction had less to do with the person and more to do with me.
Someone recently sent me a YouTube video experiment of six photographers assigned to create a portfolio of a man named Michael. The twist was that each photographer was told a different background story. Respectively, the bio-data they were given included self-made millionaire, life-saving hero, ex-inmate, commercial fisherman, psychic and former alcoholic. The photographers were told to flesh out the essence of the subject. Still not knowing the truth—Michael is none of those things—they described their experiences as “really intense,” “intimidating,” and “very open.” The powerful depictions that resulted appeared to be shots of different men.
At 5:30 a.m. every morning, my husband and I observe a ritual of drinking coffee on the glassed-in patio. Even on winter’s bitterest days, I turn on an electric heater, light a small lantern and we talk about the day ahead. This routine is ironclad, ensuring that no matter what uncertainty awaits us “out there,” the day is already a winner. Aching joints and all, enveloped in trust, appreciation and prayer for the other’s success, we can face a challenging world.
Mountains, desert and minarets pepper the landscape, but I often miss this. Instead, my eyes are drawn to a brightly lit kitchen in the building across the alley. For years I have only seen the hands and arms of the woman who, at that ungodly hour, lovingly prepares food for the day ahead; hands knead bread and dust flour on chicken cutlets. She is immaculate and wipes the counter between each chore, washing her hands in the stainless steel sink. She is young, so her arms and hands are firm. She is married, a mother and her crack-of-dawn kitchen routine is rife with love. She is religiously-observant because she never missed a night of placing the Chanukah candles at the window ledge. She is Sephardic and votes the same way I do.
This is who she is because this is who I need her to be.
Perspective is subjective. Someone else might observe the hands of a recent widow/job-hunter/transsexual/newlywed/left-wing activist, Arab/Christian, etc. (My husband doesn’t know which window I’m talking about.) Is seeing what we want to see a bad thing? No, it’s just a thing. But ascribing holiness to our individual biases is where we may get lost. We’re responsible for choosing the slant of the “stories” we encounter.
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.