Thursday, February 28, 2013

God of Parking Spaces

It is considered to be a common quandary for the religious: If there is a God, how can it be that bad things happen

It was not until I read this article by Stephen Marche that I realized that atheists have the opposite conundrum: If there is no God, how can it be that good things happen? 
. . . I was showing off my attic study to friends visiting from New York — a feeble attempt to demonstrate the advantages of living in Toronto by means of square footage — and their 3-year-old daughter, Emmy, wandered away while we were chatting. I looked over, then rushed over, both too late. All I managed to catch was the sight of her falling, a kaleidoscopic chaotic tumble. She flipped over three times. Her head hit the stairs, then her feet, then her head again, leaving a crumpled ball at the bottom. I knew instantly she must have been seriously hurt.
My imagination whirled with body casts and neck braces. Emmy’s father, rushing to her side, calmed her while surreptitiously and meticulously checking her body, piece by piece. She could move her neck, her legs. She could put her arms over her head. Relief poured over me like a pitcher of ice water. At least nothing major was broken. Then her dad began to look her over more closely. Not only was she uninjured, but she wasn’t hurt at all. Not a bump on her head. Not a bruise on her leg. Not a scratch. She didn’t need so much as a Band-Aid.
It’s not too much to say that Emmy’s wholeness shocked me. I could barely stand to look at her afterward. Every time I thought about what might have happened to my friends’ child, a fierce constriction grabbed my chest and a sickening feeling roiled in my belly. Over the rest of their visit, I kept randomly repeating, “That was a miracle.” It was the only phrase I could come up with. I didn’t know how to deal with inexplicable good fortune. Even after my friends returned to New York, the strange constriction in my chest persisted.
Judaism does not rely on miracles as proof of God's existence. We are taught Hashem appeared to our forefather Abraham, and to his son and grandson, as the aspect of God seen in nature (Shakai). When good things happened to them, they could be considered miraculous, yet were cloaked enough that they could be explained via natural laws.

The miracles of the Exodus of Egypt were meant to be a one-time deal; Moshe's life was to be that of miracles, and that is one of the reasons why he could not lead us into the Land of Israel, in that the Jewish people had to reaccustom themselves to natural law after living forty years in the super-natural. It's easy to be religious when lunch falls from the sky; let's be religious when dinner is harder to get on the table.
We are encouraged to see the miraculous in a Brooklyn parking spot, in a reduced-price skirt, in ideal weather for an outdoor chuppah. We are always taught Hashem is in the mundane. But I find it odd that that the same person who will gush that it was a miracle that they were on time when they were stuck in horrible traffic can say in the next sentence that their niece is drowning in a "shidduch crisis." 

Have we kept God for the most minute of our lives? For the petty tasks of a found shopping cart, yet we cast Him aside when it comes to the big things? 

It says in the text that Hashem spends His time (not time as we know it, since God is outside of time, but whatever that means) making shidduchim. It's not just a cute line for a Hallmark card. If we don't see the divine in the major occurrences in our life, then we are just viewing Him as a good luck charm

The same Hashem that guides my hand to the most beautiful yet surprisingly on-clearance pair of shoes is there when a date happens, whether it falls flat or ends well. He is certainly there for every other hardship as well, the horrors that my grandparents managed to survive

My bashert will be, well, bashert. But why can I not view my single state as bashert as well? It is not only bashert when everything works out; it is also bashert when everything goes to pieces. It is the same bashert if I circle blocks endlessly yet unable to park, if I emerge from a store empty handed, if skies open on a wedding day, forcing an indoor chuppah  

Bábi has been having restless nights, when she talks wildly, forgetting where she is. Her aide, a lovely Hungarian woman who truly cares for her, said soothingly, "It's all right, I'm here with you." Bábi replied, "All I need is the Jóisten." (Jóisten means "good God." Emphasis on the "good.") 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Snooki and Shadchanim Have in Common

Shadchanim are our version of reality television. 

Consider: There are no credentials to become a "shadchan"; one doesn't even have to have a marriage at one's urging to qualify one of that status. One just needs a loose-leaf with arbitrary names, and poof! One is a shadchan

One day a woman (or every once in a while, a man) decides she wants to get into this business. Her motivations may differ; they could be financial, or be as pure as driven snow, or something much less noble. She cheerfully heads out front with a hammer and nails, and erects a homemade sign announcing the shadchan is in the house. 

Almost immediately she is besieged by phone calls. She is sought after. She is admired. She is pursued by eager supplicants. Her name is whispered reverently and respectfully.

She is awash in her fifteen minutes of fame.

I don't haunt shadchanim, since I rarely have had a date from them. But I do end up going to one from time to time, since they call me. "Hi, Mrs. ___________ mentioned your name, I would like to meet you." 

I can almost predict what happens. You sit, they ask about you to the minutest detail, then they pretty much admit they don't know anyone for you, did you ever try this shadchan in LA? Why don't you fly out to meet her? 

Lady, what are you smoking? 

It gets worse. 

One who is known to the family decided to inform a "shadchan" of my existence, and told me to email the woman. I thought it was the same way as all my previous "dates" with shadchanim; they asked to meet me. However, next thing I know the middle-person is screeching how could I have dared to insinuate in my email to this all-powerful deity that she would "want" to meet me; you want to meet her! You are supposed to act, she bellowed, and I quote, "confident and eager." 

If I am ever going to be "confident and eager," there better be an eligible bachelor across the table. 

Is this what people think the shidduch system is? That I need a shadchan for a shadchan?

I am very thankful that I have many friends, family, and acquaintances who constantly try to set me up, and they have engineered many a date on my behalf, all without shredding my ego. Some even called themselves "shadchanim," but they actually had some qualifications; along with treating another human being with dignity, and not wasting my time. That is what is known as "the shidduch system."

But in all sadness and hysteria, wouldn't it make an awesome reality series? "The Shadchans of Kings County," or "Matchmaking Mavens," or "New York Yentas"? 
Anymore suggestions? 

It would show the initial interview with the so-called shadchan, and the resulting bad dates (a few good ones would be included from time to time)

"My name is Chaya, I am 25, I live in Brooklyn, and I'm seeking . . . the man of my dreams.

"My name is Aharon, I am 25, I live in Queens, and . . . I am on the search for my life partner." 

"My name is Mrs. Schwartz, and I am a shadchan. I set up Chaya and Aharon, and tonight we will see if my intuition was correct." 

Cut to restaurantSplices of awkward conversation. Then, the aftermath

"Um, he's a really nice guy, but I am not sure yet if he is for me . . .

"She's a great gal, but I would like one more date to see if this has any potential."  

It would get rockin' ratings!               

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

I have a weakness for movies featuring martial arts, so if a Jackie Chan movie is on, even with bad English dubbing, I'll remove my thumb from the remote

I was watching the 2010 version of "The Karate Kid," which is actually about kung-fu, but whatever. 

Dre, who is getting killed at school by a kung-fu robot masquerading as a 12-year-old (I'm sticking with that theory) is being trained by a secret agent posing as a maintenance man (still sticking with that) Mr. Han. 

Now Dre, like most kids, has no problem coming home and chucking his jacket on the floor, no matter how much his mother bellows otherwise. 

His first training exercise with Mr. Han is to take off his jacket, throw it on the floor, pick it up, put it on the hook, then put it on, take it off, for hour after hour after hour after hour . . . 
The first day, when he gets home, his mother asks if he learned anything. "Nah," he says, mindlessly placing his jacket on the hook. His mother's mouth drops open

Repetition is one of the best ways to teach ourselves good habits. Like when I eat vegetables. Then I want more vegetables, no matter how much takeout is tantalizingly waved beneath my nose. "Any steamed broccoli, please?" 

Dr. Phil said that it is possible to potty-train a child in one day, based on repetition. Going through the motions ten times in a row reprograms the brain. 

Take getting up early in the morning. My brother is certainly not a morning person, but he wants to make it to his shiurim before work, to the point that he now automatically awakens with the dawn. People think he's an early riser by nature. He ain't. He's really not. He's so not a morning person that when he still lived at home, he took the long way out the door because if he sees anyone, he may have to kill them. But do anything enough times, and it's no longer an effort.

We always knew practice makes perfect. Even has an article on how to break a habit. 

What I am annoyed about is that in "The Karate Kid," Jackie Chan only has one fight scene. That guy is a human windmill, and they give him one fight scene?

Monday, February 25, 2013

This Doesn't Just Happen

I can't stand it when people ask me a question but then don't want to hear the answer. 

"How did you manage to get your lipstick to stay on for three days on yontif?"

"I ate with a dessert spoon and used a straw and—"

She scoffs, cutting me off, waving a disparaging hand. 

This is not an isolated case.

Often, people ask me questions but are unhappy with my answers, annoyed I didn't say what they wanted to hear. 

In this woman's case, I'm guessing she wanted me to tell her that:

(1) I found some magic lipstick that stays on despite soup slurping, apple munching, and sleeping with one's face in the pillow; 

(2) That I had put in on on yontif

(3) I am I actually a mutant whose x-genome/power is makeup without products, like Mystique.
Yup, you found me out.
Then the one who inquires as to my skin regimen. "What do you do with your face already?" 

"It takes me about 20 minutes every night. I wash, I exfoliate, I moisturize, I eye cream, I lip balm—" 

"Oh, please, what for?" 

"So my skin will look good when I'm 50." 

"C'mon! Your skin will look fine at 50!" 

How do you know? And what is it to you how I spend my time? 

Walking along with my niece, she sighed that she wished her hair was like mine.

Her untamed tresses, when thoroughly brushed, gleam like rose gold. Any issues she has is with its texture—thick, frizzy, riotous waves—which could be helped with serious conditioning. I would know, since my hair, untreated, would have the same consistency.

"Cookie, do you think my hair just happens? Every week I massage in coconut oil, then let it sit for an hour; after shampooing it out, I condition again; next, leave-ins and serums; finally I carefully style, trying not to torture my hair too much, until my arms are exhausted." 

Her eyes glaze over. "Forget I said anything."

But there is hope for her, yet. She religiously uses the oversized bottle of Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Conditioner I gave her, and claims to use the de-frizzing serum from me as well. One day she arrives at the house, product free, her hair refusing the ministrations of a brush. I quickly dampen her hair, slap in some product, blow it a little, and while she grumbles throughout the process she can't resist stroking her now manageable mane.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you are going to ask me how my eyeshadow stays on, here's a heads up: It's work, not fairy dust.