When I went to renew my passport three years ago, I was given the option of renewing it for 10 years as opposed to five. It would have made more sense financially, but I wasn’t sure. Ironically this was a couple of years before I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, but that knowledge would have just made my choice more interesting. Don’t tempt fate, I told myself, but on the other hand, why shouldn’t I have bitachon that I would use it for 10 years?
Sitting next to me was an elderly man and since the waiting room was full (typical for a government agency) and it appeared, based on the number slips we were given, that it would be a while before being processed, we started chatting. It turned out he was turning 80 and was an artist who traveled extensively overseas so he could indulge his passion for seeing European or Asian artwork and architectural marvels. He had no compunction renewing his passport for 10 years.
I was surprised and impressed at the same time. Not only did he expect to hit 90, he was optimistic about being healthy and well enough to travel! Perhaps he had parents who had been vital well into their 90s and assumed he would be too – or he just felt good. Either way, to him, the cup was half full and would stay that way.
A life lesson I have learned is that being positive and upbeat is a valuable weapon in the battle to stay healthy, or to be successful in whatever endeavors one involves oneself in. Negative people who feel “it’s too hard” or “I can’t do it,” end up being defeated before they even start. Many don’t even bother. They tell themselves, “What’s the point, I’ll just be wasting my time, resources, energy, etc.”
Sadly, their feeling that they are doomed to fail becomes self-fulfilling.
While it’s true that putting your all into a project does not guarantee success, what is a 100% guaranteed is if you don’t try, you will definitely not achieve your goal. Yes, for every step forward there might be two steps back, but persistence can lead to success – if not, at the end of the day, one can sleep better knowing he tried.
There is a joke about a poor man who cried bitterly every time someone won the lottery. He would gaze upward to the Heavens and yell out, “Hashem, You are the master of the universe, You are all powerful. Every week I pray that I will win the lottery. I don’t need to win millions, just enough so that I can feed my children meat, not just pasta, and pay full tuition instead of having to grovel for a break, and buy a car that isn’t such an eyesore that my kids would rather walk to school in the freezing cold than be seen in it. But week after week, I am disappointed. Would it be so hard for you to let me win something after my years of entreaty?” One day after a particularly bitter complaint, Yankel heard a rumbling voice coming from behind the clouds. “Yankele, I hear your entreaties and your plea that you win the lottery. But my dear Yankele, you have to buy a ticket!”
Hashem is open to “fixing what is broken in our lives,” but we have to make the initial effort.
A lesson for this time of year is that what seems to be insurmountable is actually doable. Those of us home for Pesach dream of a chometz free house, gleaming and sanitized and radiant. To achieve this lofty but difficult goal, we have to start the cleanup. And just when we’re ready to throw in the towel, exhausted, overwhelmed and shell-shocked, faith gives us a second wind, and somehow, Erev Pesach comes around, and the house would pass a drill sergeant’s most intense inspection. Delectable smells waft through the house and a freezer bursting with enough food to feed an army stands ready to do so.
The key however, in achieving any goal, or at least enhancing the possibility of the successful completion of a task, is facing reality – especially a daunting one.
Acknowledging a situation, no matter how difficult, opens the door to possible solutions or at least a meaningful attempt to resolve a problematic situation.
Tragically, people are scared to see what they need to see. Being optimistic is a valuable asset in the battle, but first you must acknowledge that you are in one. Many go around like the proverbial ostrich, with their head buried in sand, refusing to be aware of the bogeyman right in front of them. This bogeyman comes in many insidious manifestations and incarnations: indications and clues of serious physical and emotional illnesses, financial mismanagement, or marital issues, whether married or single – after all being an older single is a “marital” issue.
Often a glaring issue is minimized by a deep reluctance to see reality. An unfortunate stance of avoidance takes over, leading to unsound attitudes: “It’s nothing, it will go away.” “My spouse is a tzaddik, nothing bad will happen to him.” “I’ll meet someone who will want me just the way I am; there is no need for me to work on myself.”
I know of two people who died because they could not face the possibility that they might have cancer and delayed their diagnosis until denial was no longer possible. I know people who freely spend money they don’t have and are sinking in a quagmire of debt. And there are older singles who need to re-evaluate themselves and reach out to dating mentors, and heed their recommendations. And there are marrieds who so desperately want to stay married, but refuse to admit that doing so is highly toxic, and that getting divorced is the lesser of two evils.
Facing one’s reality can be extremely painful – emotionally and physically and socially and financially. Doing so takes tremendous courage and resolution, but without taking on the challenge of seeing one’s “emes” nothing will change, and likely will only get worse.
That elderly gentleman at the passport office must have been well aware of the odds facing him in regards to using that passport for 10 years. I can’t imagine he was in denial; when he got up after they called his number, I saw he was using a cane. But he had bitachon.
We are not alone when we take those first steps to reality. Hashem is walking with us.