Finding myself in the Middle East

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Peppers and Papers

She rang loudly, and a few times, and I answered the door instinctively, the way you swat a masquito. I had had a headache for days, pounding away at the base of my skull, and any noise was unbearable, as was any pressure on my head. My scarf was half off my head, and the baby had just fallen asleep. I had decided on a quiet cup of coffee before tackling the rest of the kids toys, to clean and then to pack.

She walked in. She smiled. My heart sank when she asked me for a cup of coffee and put a large folder down on the table. I scolded myself. You have everything. She needs to ask.

"I have come a long way to see you," she said.

I looked at her. Had I made a hasty judgment? Was she here about something else eltirely? But no, she was pulling out papers and they were signed by rabbanim, it looked like.

The baby was not asleep after all, and lert me know it a minute into her speech. She was divorced, she said, and just married off a daughter. She had many debts. Her husband had been abusive, and she was in therapy. Also, she had a medical condition that required surgery. Covering all pity grounds, the part of me that just wanted a quiet cup of coffee (read: all of me) said. I shocked myself. When did I become so cynical? I would give more, I would give more, I decided. I would give ten shekels. Would I miss it, in the long run? And it would mean so much to her.

I smiled, got the baby, and went to the jar of change to count out ten shekels. She was still talking, and taking out pictures of the bride, the groom, some grandchildren, letters from the doctor. "Don't get money yet," she told me, "first see the pictures."

"But I have--" I was holding ten shekels. "I have--can I give you..?"

She did not look at my hand. "Can you maybe give postdated checks? Can you maybe give five thousand shekels?"

"I have ten. I can give you ten."

"Maybe three thousand? I heard very good things about you. I heard wonderful things about your family?"

"Who told you? Who told you good things? I don't understand." I clutched the ten shekels like it was a lifeline. "I can give you...can I give you twenty?" For no reason that I could understand, tears came to my eyes. "I can give you twenty." My fingers made a clumsy stab into the jar and I pulled out a ten shekel coin. I held it out. My hand felt stiff. "Here."

"I am so sorry." She sat serenely, drinking her coffee. "It must be a mistake. I do not know how I could have made a mistake like this."

I took a deep breath, let it out. "There are a lot of people with my last name. Myabe they meant someone else."

She shrugged. "Maybe." She sipped some coffee. "You know, I might need surgery."

"I am so sorry. Hashem should give you lots of strength. And money. My heart is heavy for you. I wish--"

"Can I sit for a few minutes?" she gestured vaguely around. "I need to rest. because I am sick."

"Yes, yes! You can rest!"

"Can I use your phone? I can pay you back."

"No, no, use it! Use the phone! You don't have to pay me back!"

I handed her the phone, put the baby down with some toys, and looked around widly for something to do. Lunch. I should make lunch. I took out the cutting board. I pulled a bag of lettuce, cucumbers and peppers out of the fridge. The peppers looked, suddenly, too expensive. They had been expensive, which was why I had only bought four of them. I put them back. I laid everything else out neatly, and attacked a cucumber. I would get an early start on lunch while she was here. I could have my coffee later.

I started thinking about my new apartment--which is not new at all, but much older than the one we are in right now, but that's okay, as long as I organize it properly--

"Oh, I understand if you cannot give me, it must be a mistake, I heard so many reports that you are such a giving person...who? I don't remember, but it must be a mistake, I am sorry to bother you."

She paused. Then she dialed another number. "Chany?" She said. "Do you have the list for me? Yes, from today. Also, maybe this family are really not--yes, well, I am happy for you, but I only got twenty shekels. Yes, I told them--the wife, she was the only one--but--okay, I am writing down the addresses. Say them slowly. I can only give you one, I am sorry."

An hour later I was still pretending to prepare lunch, and she was still on my phone.


Then I was trying to explain my feelings to Outdoorsman.

"I don't think it was the lines that she fed me--and everyone--or the money, or my stupid thing that I do when I can't stand my ground or whatever. It's that it just all feels so yucky and I thought I was going to feel good."

"Is that why we do it, though, to feel good?"

"Yes! No. No! It's a mitvzah, but also, it should feel good! Shouldn't it feel good? Like, um, like you did somthing, you overcame something or whatever, and you--no?"

Outdoorsman gave then elequent reply all the contemplation it deserved.

I pouted. "No?"

"It would be nice. But you know, that's how Hashem looks at us. Like we ask for these things, all the time, and then that's it. We show no appreciation when He answers. When it hurts, it's all we think about, but not afterwards."

And that's when I realized that my headache was gone; had been gone for hours.

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