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Lean on Me

Lean on Me

Help lies just beyond our front porch. We just have to let it in.


Every year at this time I recall the Rosh Hashana I learned to walk while precariously balanced on one foot.

Five years ago I broke my leg while attempting to rescue my infant daughter from falling off a bed. She recovered. My metatarsal bone was crushed.

During my first days in a cast I hobbled clumsily and cursed my misfortune. As I tottered on my front porch watching my son depart for school, I envied the people walking unhindered on the sidewalk in front of my house.

It wasn't the shattered bone in my leg that pained me most; it was the feeling of helplessness. I had a newborn to care for, a son starting school, and a job that demanded me to run around on two feet.

With one fell swoop I had been thrust (albeit temporarily) into the world of a cripple. Little tasks I had previously taken for granted, such as bathing or brushing my teeth, suddenly required a great deal of effort. The simple act of rising from a chair and crossing the room was exhausting.

I was well aware of the myriad of people with more serious health issues and I knew I was lucky because my disability wasn't permanent. Still I felt sorry for myself. And alone.

That's when Ellen discovered me. Or more appropriately, when I discovered Ellen.

Ellen lived down the block and always greeted passersby while walking her dog. My crutches and somber face halted her in her tracks. I told her my sad story that started on Rosh Hashana and ended in the emergency room.

Ellen listened sympathetically and asked what she could do to help. I rejected her offers of course. I was too proud to accept assistance. Our conversation went forgotten until late afternoon when a neighbor appeared at my door with platters of food. Unbeknownst to me Ellen had informed all my neighbors and everyone had volunteered to bring meals.

The sweetest ingredient of these dishes were the warm wishes and friendship that accompanied them.

Their kindness came delivered by the bag and frying pan. There were three-course meals with meatballs, ribs, salads and desserts. The sweetest ingredients of these dishes were the warm wishes and friendship that accompanied them. The compassion extended beyond food to include offers of rides, grocery runs and babysitting. Someone lent me a wheelchair.

I stopped feeling sorry for myself long enough to wonder what I had ever done to deserve such an outpouring of love and caring.

I wasn't accustomed to receiving but I didn't turn anyone away. I realized I needed the help. I felt honored to be part of this wonderful extended family that considers it a mitzvah to help someone, even if their immobility is fleeting. The physical sustenance was delicious. But the greatest gift my neighbors gave me was a sustaining source of inner strength. I no longer felt alone.

Their efforts reminded me to admire the good in the world even from the precarious vantage point of one leg. I tried to thank Ellen but she kept insisting there was nothing extraordinary about what she did. To her it was second nature. I thought I was one of the lucky few recipients. But since my ordeal I have discovered that there are dozens of Ellens in communities across our Jewish globe. Each has made a pursuit of caring for others, whether they are victims of broken bodies or broken hearts.

When we purchase new homes we often consider the beauty and expansion potential of the construction. But the true greatness lies in the spirit of those who live down the block, who breathe meaning into the expression "quality of life." These are the people who know it's not just important to do well in life, but to do good. They earn the quiet satisfaction of comforting the afflicted. Their names rarely make the headlines but they are the ones who keep our nation mighty. They know that the best way to correct the injustice in the world is to fix it with our own hands and feet.

How appropriate that my fall came on Rosh Hashanah when I could realize the humility that comes by standing on one foot.

How appropriate that my fall came on Rosh Hashanah when I could realize the humility that comes by standing on one foot. And I could discover the beauty that comes when kind souls take action: Their compassion not only comforts it reverberates through other homes. I have seen recipients who in turn become providers for others facing their own hard times. I like to imagine that each time someone takes action it has a domino effect so that eventually, more and more people will continue the trend of performing acts of kindness for their neighbors. All because of one Ellen.

Since that Rosh Hashana I too have tried to become a better neighbor. When I hear about someone going through hard times I am more inclined to run to help. I have organized meals for sick people and have cooked dinners which I deliver with good wishes. I find it comforting when tragedy strikes to be able to do something productive instead of throwing my hands up in resignation. And now I know from experience that when someone shrugs, "I don't need anything," it could be a sign that they need it most.

Eight weeks after my fall I returned to the doctor. He removed my cast with a dramatic flourish. Then he pulled me to my feet and announced, "And now you can walk."

As I took my first steps I realized that the doctor was only half right. Even with a broken heart and shattered bones you can hold your head upright and make real strides forward. You just need the right people to lean on.

September 15, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) J, October 1, 2007 1:15 PM

acts of chesed

Over the last couple of years, my wife and I merited an experience similar to Ms. Yellin's. Last year, my wife had leg surgery and had restricted mobility for several weeks. This year, the surgery had to be repeated (with good results, thank G-d). On both occasions, members of our synagogue stepped forward, to organize meals for our family, delivered fresh and ready to eat. Like Ms. Yellin, we hesitated to accept the proferred help. But what a relief it was! Not just the food itself (which I could have bought catered, once my limited cooking skills failed); but the knowledge that our community was standing beside us and was caring enough to render assiatance, unbidden. These selfless acts of chesed (kindness) strengthened our family during a very trying time, have left a lasting impression upon my family and have served as an important lesson (for our kids, too!) about communal responsibility and caring. "Kol Israel arevim zeh la'zeh": All Israel are responsible for one another (Pirke Avot).

(5) Mindy, September 19, 2007 8:52 PM

Beautiful title

Iwould like to comment on that fact that sometimes, we feel tired of giving. We give and give and we ar depressed becasue we feel as though our giving is going nowhere. we feel as though the pool of the ocean is ss big and our little bucket doesn't help. But it does. Like the man who was picking up starfish on the beach and throwing them back into the sea- it makes a difference to that one! We touch people's lives all the time, and in deeper ways than we realize. I am a teacher, and I feel I have a great oppurtunity open before me, to make a real diference in people's lives. and I cna tell you that it happens. We really do- and it doesn;t have to be just a teacher/ parent/ conselor/ therapist. It't the person you are walking down the street giving a smile to someone. I can tell you that that can literally save people's lives. You never know what people are going through, and how what you do or say, a little word of encouragement, a little show of love, can change a person's life. So don't give up! Although it may seem that your goodness goes unrewarded, there is a God in heaven who takes account of our every action. And remember- a journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.

(4) Blima Pilchick, September 16, 2007 10:37 PM

asking for and receiving help

Two and a half years ago I had a knee replacement. When asked if the surgery was a sucess, I would answer yes and no.Boruch Hashem the horrific pain every time I took a step was gone, most of the time, yet my knee is stiff and buckles under me at times and I developed a circulation problem, a kind of permanent Raynouds, which if I keep my feet warm I will hopefully not develop ulcers, I can be OK. So it is not serious, but along with this condition comes a balance disorder, hence I need to walk with a walker. This has made me feel upset at needing help and being an object of others pity. Well one day in walks my patient, I am a psychotherapist, who tells me he finds it hard to be different, he is single, mentally ill and is always invited for meals, not someone who hosts always a guest. I said to him its hard to be different, I know I am disabled and people have to help me all the time. My patient said to me, I heard a shiur by Rabbi Dovid Cohen, he said a disabled person is a source of chesed, everytime someone helps him he gets a mitzvah and the individual who helps him gets a mitzvah. What a beautiful thing this is now whenever someone helps me I tell him thank you with a full heart, after all I got a mitzvah just for being the way I am, and even better I was able to give another person a mitzvah as well. This was so special and so encouraging to me that I told my pateint many times how he gave me chizuk and continues to give me chizuk with his repetition of Rabbi Cohen's statement. Patients come to therapists for support for help in having a fuller and richer life, but they are a source of support to their therapists as well. We could learn from everyone!

(3) Rebecca, September 16, 2007 4:43 PM

We are blessed

How wonderful that you were able to keep your infant from harm, and that your community rallied around you in your time of need!

(2) Shells, September 16, 2007 4:08 PM

I call the Ellen's - God's Angels

Deena - I too had a similar experience last year in the UK when I suffered from a slipped disk at the base of my spine. I not only found I had no choice but to accept I needed help when it was offered, I had to ask for it too.... and beleive me, as a Mum who has struggled for a long time to fight for help for her children, admitting that she needed help now for the basics was really hard. I couldn't even leave the house!! My Mum has always been my number one helper but on this occassion I felt it was too much to expect her to get my two children to school and collect them as well as help me now with everything she could. I am blessed to live in a street with neighbours who care enough to talk and listen to each other and when the word hit my street that I'd been literally laid up, I was able to put a rota together to get my children to school. Since then I have found it easier to ask for help from my neigbours, who are like my extended family, and I can proudly accept that there are other people like me in the UK who are willing and able to help without the need for anything in return, because their free gift to you is the love they are sharing with you by being of service when you need it most. This is why I call Ellen's - God's Angels - because they fly in when you need them the most and I thank God when they arrive. hugs from England. Shells x

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