When in Doubt, Interact with Others
Many times the simplest and briefest of interactions with a total stranger can be the most rewarding. I find again and again and that I never know how a new person in my life will enrich my outlook and open up new opportunities for learning and experience. And yet, even as a relatively outgoing person, I still have to make a couscous effort to open up to others, especially at times when I feel low. Even outgoing people get busy and can walk right past opportunities to interact with others. The people around us are the most important aspect of our world and one never knows when a simple interaction (a kind word, a showing of interest in another, that simple helpful gesture) might turn out to be profoundly beneficial to all concerned.
I was feeling a little blue one weekend morning and given my druthers I would have avoided interacting with people and spent the day alone, moping around. But instead, two beliefs and a random call for help changed my day.
First, I believe that we need to push ourselves to action when we feel unmotivated and blue and the call of the couch and online media is strongest. Second, personal experience has taught me that one great way to help dispel the blues is to do something, anything no matter how seemingly insignificant, to help another person. The random call for help came in the form of a post on a local social network by someone I did not know. A neighbor, who lives just a few streets down from me, was looking for used lumber (2x4s) to build his Sukkah, a traditional outdoor hut for the Jewish celebration of Sukkot.
In Jewish tradition, Sukkot is the marking of the Autumn harvest and the commemoration of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and their ultimate acceptance of their reliance on the Will of God. During this religious festival Jews build a temporary wooden structures outside their homes to eat under and sometimes sleep under for the 7 to 8 days of the festival. Meals tend to be more elaborate and special and a few days of the period are treated like the Sabbath, little work is performed and the day is spent contemplating God and community. Many people decorate the inside of their sukkahs by hanging ornaments from the s’chach or ceiling.
I gave the poster (Max) a call and told him that I had several pieces of the required wood, but some was weathered. He was enthusiastic and we arraigned to meet. A half hour later we were cutting wood to size and loading it into his station wagon. While we selected, prepped, and loaded the wood, we got to talking and I learned that this kind and gentle man works with elderly people and their relatives to select assisted living communities and facilitate placement. I told him about my aging parents and he asked several thought provoking questions and made a number of helpful suggestions. It was incredibly comforting to listen to a strong advocate for the elderly speak with passion and knowledge of the living options available and how to best choose something appropriate and affordable for ones aging relatives.
As we shook hands and prepared to part ways, my new acquaintance invited me to share a meal with his family during Sukkot. I consider this a great honor as well as a wonderful cultural and theological learning experience and I will definitely take him up on the offer.
It felt good to help a stranger and even better to realize that this person was no longer a stranger but a new friend. And to think, I would have missed out on those good feelings, those endorphins, and all the above experiences if I had stayed alone with my thoughts. Instead, all I had to do was press a phone number link in an email and introduce myself to the person on the other end of the line.
Oh, and thank you, Max, for asking for help.