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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Is Your Cup Half Empty?


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Half full or half empty – it’s your choice! I recently davened in a shul I hadn’t been to in a long while, and at the kiddush noticed the parents of one of my children’s classmates.

We gravitated to each other and chatted, happy to catch up with each other’s milestones and family news.  The couple told me that their four children were now all married and living locally with their families. They were in fact hosting a sleepover for several of their grandchildren and excused themselves to go round them up.

Now New Yorkers might enjoy the phenomenon of having all their children living relatively nearby, and if they aren’t in the same borough at least they are within an hour of driving.

For out-of-towners, having one’s brood geographically close is not such a common occurrence. Even in big cities like Toronto, which has a very thriving community and many schools, shuls, restaurants and all the amenities that can easily support a frum lifestyle, very few families have all their married children in town.  It is common to have at least one or two living somewhere else in North America or in Eretz Yisrael.

So many kids do live far from their parents, and their siblings, that the Yiddisher veldt helps keeps the airlines and bus companies in business – especially around Yom Tov, long weekends and secular holidays.  Border guards on the Canadian-US border have likely seen more etrogim and lulavim pre-Sukkot then the merchants who sell them!

For parents to see their children and grandchildren often enough to create significant bonds and memories, time and money must be set aside and patience fortified while waiting for delayed flights to take off or the endless road to finally end.

I said goodbye to my old friends and walked out thinking how fortunate they were – these grandparents could easily attend birthday parties, siddur parties, upsherins, and even witness a grandchild’s first steps.

I was glad for them, but felt a bit sorry for myself, because I don’t have the luxury of just dropping in on a whim (and with an OK from the young couples) to see my children and grandchildren. I need to go on a very long car, bus or train ride or take several faster but more expensive plane trips, as one lives hundreds of miles from his siblings.

(In fact I have done all of the above on the same trip, where I got a car ride to the subway, that brought me to the bus station, where I caught the bus that, finally, took me over the border – usually a process that takes an hour or two or three when the bus is filled with passengers of varying nationalities and passports – to the Buffalo airport, where I flew to New York. A subway ride to Penn station and the New Jersey Transit train finally got me to my destination. A shlep to be sure but I saved a lot of money that way, which I was able to spend on the young members of the gleeful chorus who sing “Bubby, what did you bring us?)

As they say, “It is what it is,” and you kind of accept that reality.  It’s how you do so that makes or breaks you. And herein is the point: the situation might not be in your control, but how you react to it is.

You can bemoan your fate and dwell on the negative, or appreciate the positive in your G-d-given reality. You just need to open your eyes – which I did that very evening.  After Shabbat, I went to a single’s event at the behest of a friend. There I too met people I hadn’t seen for a long time. Some were old timers who had been on their own for years; others were “new” to the scene.  Some had been married but were divorced or widowed; some had never been married.

And quite a few didn’t have children.  For them there was no need for planes or trains or buses.

That was a sobering reality check – and an embarrassing one. I left the event chiding myself for wallowing in self-pity when I have so much to be grateful for. Sure, there are people in your circle of acquaintances and friends who seemingly have it all – good marriages, children who give them nachas, a successful career/parnassah etc. But at the same time, there are many people who wish they were in your shoes, even though you might feel they are “scruffed at the toes” and want a different pair!

You can view your cup as being half full with the hope it will fill up one day, or you can see it as being half-empty, and focus on the emptiness and “ignore the flowers” as you worry it will get even emptier.

Like everyone else in our community, I have had several friends who battled cancer. All had a tough battle ahead of them. Toxic drugs were being poured into their bodies in a valiant attempt to destroy the insidious cells that threatened to overcome them. Often they struggled with the devastating side effects of this chemical cocktail they were absorbing.

But even though their medical situations were similar, how they mentally dealt with their new status quo was often as different as night and day.

Two in particular come to mind. Both, I am happy to say, are alive and relatively well, years after their ordeal.  However, one of them, during her illness already sat shiva for herself, convinced that she was going to die.  She even told her friends what items from her closets they could help themselves to.

The other insisted that she was going to win her battle and refused to see any setbacks as indicative of the outcome. “I may lose ground here and there, but in the end I will win this war,” she declared repeatedly.

When she felt up to it, “Mrs. Positive” would go out to eat with her friends, attended smachos, and tried to live her life the way she did before her diagnosis.

“Mrs. Negative” closeted herself at home, bemoaning her cruel fate. How she wished she could go shopping, she would whimper. “Aren’t you feeling well enough to go out?” her friends would ask concerned.  “I actually feel better today but what is the point of buying anything? I’ll be dead soon anyhow!”

Her friends, some of whom had also “been there, done that” in regards to life-threatening medical conditions and illnesses, wore themselves out trying to convince her to be hopeful. But to no avail.  At some point I told her that she shouldn’t be so afraid of dying since she was “dead” already.  She refused to go to weddings since they were “too painful” a reminder “that she’d never see her kids under the chuppah (her eldest were teens at the time).  She loved doing needlepoint, but gave it up; it was unlikely she would live long enough to finish what she started.

Yet Mrs. Positive lived her life as she had all along, and her positivity infused that same quality in her friends and relatives, even years later when some of them were diagnosed with illness. And she is their best cheerleader.

Yes, our cups are not as full as we would like them to be, but then again, they aren’t as empty as some of us think they are.  At the end of the day, it’s how you look at it and allow yourself to see it!

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