It was right before Shabbos and I was ripping several rolls of toilet paper. Yes, I know that lots of people use pre-cut tissues and don’t bother with ripping toilet paper in honor of Shabbos, but some of us “old timers” still prepare this necessity in the old-fashioned way. I was just about to toss out three rolls when I paused to reflect on their potential usefulness.
“What a shame to throw them out,” I thought.
The next Monday morning after Shabbos, I brought these three “props” to my Make Each Day Count class, and placed them standing upright on the table.
“I’d like everyone to look at these, and then write in your notebooks: what do you see? What are these?”
The women in the room looked at me quizzically, like “Hello, isn’t it obvious?”
(And later, when I repeated this exercise with my children, they definitely looked at me with that Is-this-a-trick-question? expression on their faces!)
I continued. “Okay, now write down: what else do you see? What else could these be?
A silent pause followed, until I added, “What else could these be used for?”
The obvious answer to the first question was “Toilet paper rolls.” Some would even say, “Garbage!” And more somber observers might comment, “Something associated with the dirty and smelly side of life.
The fun started with the answers to the next question: what else could they be?
- Pen and pencil holders
- Trees for Tu b’Shevat
- Noisemakers for Purim
- Teaching props for a class on Reframing!
Admittedly, it is much easier to see the potential of a toilet paper roll if one has worked in a nursery school, or as a camp counselor, art teacher or creative stay-at-home Mom. But the more life experience one has with “reframing” the more natural it becomes to view things in different ways.
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in his book Begin Again Now writes that reframing means perceiving a situation or event differently than you did originally, or differently than it is usually viewed.
“Positive reframing” simply means developing the ability to view a neutral fact or event to which one has assigned negative meaning, in a new, more positive way.
As we all know, we rarely have control over many factors that can impact our lives in very challenging ways. But we do have the ability to learn how to control our response to difficult events.
After our toilet paper exercise, I began reading aloud from Begin Again Now.
“A person who masters the art of reframing will be the master of the emotional quality of his life. Anger, irritation, frustration, misery, being upset, and many other painful and counterproductive emotions are all products of how we decide to interpret a situation.
“People who experience much joy, happiness, and bliss in their lives do so because of the way they reframe life events. People who have mastered serenity and inner peace do so because of the way they reframe life events.
“People who are cynical, miserable, pessimistic, bitter, scornful, gloomy, or self-pitying can only stay this way because of the unfortunate way they reframe the exiting adventures, challenges and opportunities of the world.
“There is no event so positive that a creative negative reframer can’t mess up. At the same time, a person with a creative sense of humor can find humor by reframing the same things that frustrate others.
“When a reframe is real to you, your feelings towards the event or occurrence will be consistent with that reframe. For example, if you missed a plane, you might feel very distressed, but if because of your missing the plane you gained a lucrative financial opportunity, (or met your destined one as a result!) you will have fond memories of that missed plane.”
I finished reading Rabbi Pliskin’s section on Reframing, and summed up our class by giving an assignment to consider at least two events that occurred in our lives that we experienced as very negative when it happened, and think of several positive things that came as a result.
After a few minutes of writing, one of the participants said, “Listen to this! Two years ago, we were here visiting my family. Our flight back to the States was at midnight. My mother encouraged me to call and confirm, but I thought, ‘Who does that anymore?’ ” But she felt it was important, so I called the airlines and was shocked when they told me, ‘Your flight was at midnight last night. Lady, you missed the plane!’
“We were pretty stunned. We tried to get on the next flight, but it was booked. Then, believe it or not, the next day was when the volcano in Iceland erupted, there were volcanic ash clouds everywhere and all air travel through Europe was suspended! We could not get on another flight for over a week!
“During that unexpected, unplanned extra time in Israel, my husband met a friend and they were talking, and somehow it came up that this friend knew someone who was leaving his administrative job. And my husband was offered the position! This meant we could suddenly, unexpectedly, actualize our dream of making aliya!
“We weren’t sure we could organize our lives so quickly to arrange everything to come in six short months, when the job was supposed to start, but then that fellow wasn’t ready to vacate for another half a year, which gave us the time we needed to get ready to come.
“A year after we “missed the plane” we moved to Israel, to Jerusalem!”
A toilet paper roll is a piece of garbage or it can be a bright and colorful noisemaker. It’s our choice!