My neighbor, Debbie*, has magical powers. I doubt that she realizes the extent of her prowess, the pervasive capacity of her words to transform their recipients, but of this I am sure: she is a master of her art.
“Malky,” she gushes, “you are so put-together!” I straighten my lopsided beret and perk up my ears as I pluck another tricycle from the jumble in our garage. “Honestly, I don’t know how you do it!” Honestly, I don’t know what she is talking about, but I find myself beaming.
Little does Debbie realize that whatever clouds might be hovering overhead at the time part like the Red Sea upon her arrival, allowing the full brilliance of the sun to warm the hearts of those around her.
Maybe she’s lying. Maybe she wants my parking spot. Maybe she took upon herself some sort of commitment that requires her to compliment others. Maybe she really does think that I have a special soul simply because I gave a friend a lift to the supermarket, or that I am a supermom because my daughter shared her Veggie Chips.
Who cares? Either way, I suddenly feel “put-together.” When I come home to the clutter of books a certain toddler left on the floor or open the baking cabinet to be greeted by an avalanche of assorted pans and random cupcake holders that a certain mother carelessly shoved in, I will not trip over those books with a helpless sigh, nor will I slam the cabinet shut before something else falls out and make some grape-juice ice-pops instead. I will sort, rearrange and organize, because today I am “put together.”
When I feel like a “supermom,” I will try harder not to yell at my kids; When I feel like a “terrific wife”, I will try to remember to greet my husband with a smile (instead of kvetching about the bubbles that were poured over my toddler’s head) when he comes home from work. When I feel capable, I will do.
The power of praise is no news to us mothers. Praising our children can raise them to the heights of whom they can become. When done correctly, we can gently and wisely guide our children into the individual roles that God has provided for them, allowing them to discover their inner strengths. With God’s help and our attuned efforts, we, too, can make magic.
What we might not realize is that this is a handy survival mechanism for us, grownups, too. As we cruise along the individual paths of our lives, GPS firmly rooted nearby, we often pass each other without so much as a glance. Opportunities to reach out and build each other up pass us by like road signs and we are too distracted with our iPads to notice them. And then when we find ourselves lost, when our world isn’t quite the way we want it to be, we suddenly notice each other as we try to figure out where to place the blame.
With just a small compliment or a genuine smile, we can bring a dose of magic to our relationships.
We may share households or neighborhoods or even just a trip to the zoo; at the very least we may share nothing more than our world. And that, my friends, is a good enough reason to foster our connection within it.
With just a small compliment, albeit an honest one, or a genuine smile, we can bring a dose of magic to our relationships. We can pierce the disconnection so many of us feel and brighten someone’s day, the effects of which often spread far and wide.
Many centuries ago, our ancestors learnt this lesson the hard way. The Holy Land wasn’t always spoken of as such. When 12 of our leaders were sent on a mission to check out the special land that God had promised us, ten of them returned with a surprising report.
Oh, it’s a land flowing with milk and honey alright, they implied, but we’ll never make it – not with our sins. They knew we could only conquer under God’s leadership- and that was dependent on our deeds.
And so, instead of using their words to encourage us, they painted the land with frightening colors, causing the nation to tremble and weep to the extent that we wanted to return to the slavery of Egypt. That night was Tisha B’Av, what became the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.
Had they believed in us, had we believed in ourselves, things might have turned out very differently.
With Tisha B’Av approaching, we can strive to make things right. We can bring back what was lost and reverse the trend by using our words to build, not destroy.
Whether you compliment your but-I’ve-never-said-two-words-to-them neighbor on his freshly mowed lawn, or tell some stranger in the supermarket, “Wow, you passed right by the five-for-a-dollar chocolate-caramel-crunch and you didn’t even look once! You must have tremendous willpower!” know that you are building someone. And it won’t stop there. They will, in turn, pass some of those building blocks onto someone else.
Thank you, Debbie, for making me feel like I’m saving the world from starvation every time I loan you an onion. You have shared some of your magic with me. Seems like it’s not that hard to save the world, after all.