It can be surprising to realize that everyone is human.

I’m waiting in a long, slow line at the bank with my hungry 4-month-old baby. One teller is working, a pregnant woman, impassive behind her professional glass wall. Just as it seems that my turn will come before Hungry turns into Crisis, the teller takes a lunch break and walks into the employees-only kitchen with her sandwich. She’s religious, so this sandwich will not be a quick snack; it will require washing beforehand followed by a lengthy Grace after Meals.

I glance at the others in line. No one else seems even slightly impatient or perturbed. Waiting seems to be part of the natural fabric of Israeli life. But there’s no way my baby is going to wait calmly until the end of her lunch break. So I scoop her up, catch the eye of the female employee with the friendliest face, and ask if there’s an out-of-the-way place in the bank where I can nurse. Instantly sympathetic, she grabs her keys and beckons me to follow her…into the same kitchen as the teller I’m waiting for.

I settle myself on a chair, facing the other way, trying to leave some kind of professional distance between us. But let’s face it: she’s expecting a baby, I have a baby, and at the end of the day we’re just two mommies in a room. Boundaries start to blur.

At the end of the day we’re just two mommies in a room. Boundaries start to blur.

As other employees drift in to grab yogurts and a quick shmooze, I gradually forget where I am. The cozy, friendly energy of a kitchen has far more power than the cold, impersonal atmosphere of a bank. I start to notice a few small places on the wall where the paint is chipped or the bank logo is peeling off. Buildings come and go while mommies and babies endure.

Teller and Baby finish eating at about the same time. I exit the kitchen and go back onstage, assuming my role as Waiting Customer. The bank has changed. It’s no longer a detached and professional workplace; now it’s just a room like any other, filled with employees who are suddenly human. They’re not cold Bank Officials anymore; they’re just people doing their jobs and waiting for their own lunch breaks.

Teller sheds her persona of Hungry Expectant Mother and also resumes her role, sitting back down behind the counter. When my number is called, our eyes meet with the barest flicker of acknowledgement and humor. But what am I supposed to say? “So, how was your sandwich?” So I let the moment pass and complete my transaction, as though the performance is reality and the power of kitchens is just a facade.

How often do we go through our lives this way, just playing our roles and ignoring the common thread of humanity that underlies them? It’s so easy to get caught in the externalities of the taxi driver, the saleslady, the flight attendant. How often do we look deeper, seeking the whole person whom we so quickly sum up in a single phrase? We’re so quick to judge, to see only what’s shown at first glance.

Hidden Super Heroes

I’ll never forget the older couple who provided sleeping accommodations for my family one Shabbos that we were staying out of town. They were gracious hosts and we appreciated their hospitality, yet in my 20-second subconscious assessment, I immediately pegged them as “ordinary.” Without even realizing I was judging them, I had taken in the framed family photos on the wall, the neat, cling-wrap covered plate of deviled eggs in the fridge and the school calendars and to-do lists hanging in the kitchen, and decided that our hosts were just regular, unremarkable people.

How much compassion, patience, love and inner strength must it take to make such a choice?

Only towards the end of Shabbos did we learn that one of their children had been born with Down’s syndrome and that they had subsequently adopted another child with Down’s. My entire perception of them immediately changed. How much compassion, patience, love and inner strength must it take to make such a choice? How much commitment and determination? Our hosts weren’t ordinary; they were superheroes! Once my perspective was widened, I could see this “unremarkable” couple through truer, and much humbler, eyes.

Of course, it’s not always professionally advisable to drop the mask and interact from a place of personal connection. But neither is it healthy to spend our entire lives onstage.

Especially at this time of year, as we prepare to be seen on Rosh Hashanah by the One Who sees all, let’s remember that every relationship has an internal level as well as an external one. People are much more complex (and interesting!) than the simple roles in which we cast them. Often our deepest convictions and most meaningful selves are buried beneath the job titles.

Just as we wish God to see deeper than our surface selves and to have compassion for our struggles and failings, so must we work to see others with the same fullness of vision. In this merit, may all of us – the bank tellers and the mommies, the taxi drivers and the adoptive parents – be blessed with a sweet and joyful new year.