Thursday, May 05, 2005

Honk If You Need...a Carpool!

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Today is May 5; my children's day school is over around June 23; the new school year starts after Labour Day, around September 5, I believe.

And this evening I received a phone message from a woman, a stranger to me, whose child was going to enter my children's day school come September, was to be in the same grade as my oldest child, and who lived quite nearby. She was looking for a carpool for her child, and had received class lists for kids currently in the same grade as her son.

She is rightfully planning ahead for September; I can't even plan for two days from now! But maybe I should take the bull by the horns and declare, "Great, fine. Sure we'd love to carpool. We'll pick up your one child and will bring him in the mornings, and you pick up and take mine home in the afternoon -- just make sure to pick up all three kids, but remember they get out at different times, get out at different areas in the school, the youngest isn't to leave the building without a guardian or sibling; on Thursdays A has choir; on Wednesdays, A has chess. On Wednesday and Thursday, the kids stay at school till 5:00. Make sure they take all their homework with them, make sure they have their knapsacks and lunch bags with them when they get into your van; make sure they don't leave them in the van; make sure A and N don't sit together--they'll fight like cats and dogs; oh, nobody's around when you should drop them off, so could you take all three kids back to your place for a half hour till we're in the neighborhood. Give them a small snack, help them start their homework and keep them occupied till one of us manages to get there and pick them up. Does that sound good for you, too?"

"Um, hello? He...l....l.....o....? Oh, well, I guess she didn't need a carpool that badly."

It's a Beautiful Day, Don't Let It Slip Away

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Not every day granted to us is a beautiful day. Yes, we thank G-d in the morning when we wake up from sleep, and when our bodies can function correctly, and when we meet daily requirements with ease. But some people are not as fortunate. Some people suffer. Some people do not see the beauty for the suffering, while others see the beauty in spite of the suffering.

This morning I had a follow-up medical appointment with a specialist, whom I have to visit every six months for a not-so-serious reason now, but which one day might turn on me. And as I stepped out of the hospital, knowing that all was well and I wouldn't have to see him for another six months, I looked at the blue sky and the brilliant sunshine, I looked at the people bustling past on the avenue, I looked inward and mentally sang the U2 lyrics "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away."

A week ago today, I also stepped out of a hospital, a different one. And although it was rather cold outside, bleary and gray, I knew that it was a beautiful day. We were bringing someone home from the hospital, a close family member who, hours earlier, had to be rushed by ambulance to the hospital for severe reasons. Lying on a gurney in a transitional emergency department "room", hooked up to monitors and IVs, not knowing if you're coming or going, having X-rays taken, CT scans taken, needles probing does not make for a beautiful day.

But coming home sure does.

Let's Shake On It

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I'm a child of Eastern and Western European parents. Being that, shaking hands is a big part of the European culture, a way to forge temporary bonds with people, in greeting or in parting. It wasn't until I was in my late teens, though, that I truly took the hand shaking habit on.

And it worked for quite a while, but every now and again, I was reminded by circumstance that shaking hands was a no-no. I have a first cousin in the U.S. whose wife I could hug and embrace warmly whenever we reunited, but I could not direct the same actions to him for religious reasons. I'd stand awkwardly, not being able to extend a hand or even touch his shoulder in acknowledgment. Running through my head was always the refrain, "Never the twain shall meet."

The practice of shomer negiah is a friend to many, a stranger to others. I'm a "shomeret," a person who watches how she comes into contact with people, but does not refrain necessarily from shaking hands. I've learned to know to whom a hand may be extended, and to whom it cannot. I will always shake a hand if it is offered to me, but will think twice about initially offering my own. My biggest lesson in this area happened when I was nearing the end of my University of Toronto days.

I'd been campus/Hillel friends with a MO guy whom I'll refer here to as Danny. I recall Danny and I showed up once to help decorate the Hillel sukkah. We were the only ones volunteering for the fun and creative task, so we made it fun for ourselves, and just enjoyed the spirit of the afternoon as we put our own touches on the decorations. He poked my shoulder, I poked his (I have a tendency to do that when I'm being emphatic; think along the lines of Seinfeld's Elaine character, when she pushes people as she declares in disbelief: "Get out!" That's me to a much lesser degree.), and there was just this fun, flirtatious spirit in the air. But that's all it was. And whenever Danny and I would see each other at the Hillel house or on campus, we'd wave, chat a bit and continue on our paths.

Some time passed; I think it was already the next school year, and I saw Danny after a long lapse of time. I immediately moved to shake his hand in greeting and he quickly put both hands behind his back, as if he were playing a hiding game, placing something quickly out of sight. I automatically did the same with my hands in an reactive, impulsive way. There had been no "Sorry, I no longer shake hands with women," no "I'm now shomer negiah." It was just that he had to get his hands out of the way as fast as he could. I was so embarrassed by the situation, knowing I'd embarrassed him and myself in the moment. But that moment has stuck out in my head all these years, and it still makes me rather uneasy. Here was a guy who'd teased me and poked me in the arm just several months earlier, and suddenly doing so was off-limits. The off-limits part was fine by me, but an explanation, similar to a small-print warning sign on a product, would have been nice, too.

I've consulted with several Orthodox people about this uneasy memory of mine, and most of them said that to avoid embarrassing me, since I'd already put out my hand, Danny should have shaken it, then maybe launched into an explanation. I can't help but see in my mind that "quick-draw action" of his hands as he pulled them out of sight, away from my offered handshake.

Yes, I understand the halachot of and the reasons for shomer negiah, and I respect one's observance of it, so now that we've come to an understanding, can we please shake on it?