A Surprising Uplift
Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10 )
Sometimes the things that knock us down are exactly the things that lift us up. In this week's portion we learn about the special pure olive oil that was used to light the giant menorah in the tabernacle-synagogue. The pure oil that fueled these special lights only came from the olives after they were knocked down, beaten, crushed, and pressed hard. We can learn a lesson from here that when it comes to us too, the things in our lives that may make us feel crushed and knocked down can, if we look at them correctly, also bring the best out of us and ‘light us up' like never before.
In our story, one kid goes to cheer up another, and comes out with a big surprise.
A LUCKY BREAK
The van would be turning into the hospital parking lot any minute and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say. When the school social worker first came around looking for volunteers to go visit the sick kids in the local children's hospital I figured I'm a pretty upbeat kind of guy and if I could spend an hour and cheer up one of these poor kids who were stuck in the hospital, why not?
But as we got closer, I got more and more nervous. After all, any kid who was so sick he had to be cooped up long term in a hospital ward was bound to be really down and depressed - how could I possibly say anything that would make him feel better?
I and the other volunteers got out of the van, and they told each of us which patient to visit. Mine was a kid named Jonnie Green in room 706. It said on the paper that he had been in a bad car accident and had already been in the hospital for more than three months! Boy, was he bound to be down. I only hoped I wouldn't make him feel any worse.
I nervously approached the room, but when I got there, I breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed like the patient wasn't there. There was just some kid sitting there, about my age wearing a sports T-shirt and a baseball cap, laughing out loud as he read a comic book. Must be the guy's brother or another volunteer, I figured.
I walked in. "Um, I'm looking for Jonnie Green. Are you also here to visit him?"
The kid turned to me with one of the brightest smiles I ever saw. "Yeah," he said with a laugh, "but I get to visit him every day, and nights too!"
Huh? I walked closer and started getting confused. Why was this visitor sitting in a wheelchair? "Oh, wait a minute, are you…I mean…"
He stuck out his hand, with an I.V. tube sticking out of it, "Jonnie Green, in the flesh. And who do I have the pleasure to be meeting?"
I introduced myself and we began to talk. I had prepared a whole ‘cheer-up' speech to say, but never got around to it. It seemed Jonnie was also a Patriots fan, and once we got talking football and all sorts of other regular stuff, I would have almost forgotten that I was in a hospital room if a nurse or doctor didn't come in every once in a while to give Jonnie a pill or check his blood pressure.
"Lunch time Jonnie!" announced a tall nurse as she wheeled in a tray of steaming food. "Should I help you?"
"Thanks Sheila," he said with his thousand-watt smile, "but I think I'll be okay, I have a friend here today."
He looked at me and smiled. "Um, Gary, do you think you could give me a hand getting to that sink over there?"
"Sure, tell me what to do."
He handed me his crutches and I held him up by the arm as he slowly made his way across the room. I could hear him groaning in pain with each step, yet the smile never left his face.
"Jonnie," I said as we walked, "How do you do it? How are you able to keep yourself ‘up' and smiling in spite of everything you went through, and are still going through?"
He gave me a funny look, as he bent to wash his hands. "You got it all wrong, Gary. I'm like this because of everything I went through."
He must have seen the shock on my face, "Please just help me get back over to the wheelchair and I'll explain."
"Before the accident I was just a regular kid, and not a very cheerful one either. In fact you could say I was pretty down on life. Then one day we were just out on a family trip and the next thing I knew I woke up in this hospital. I had broken a lot of bones and first I could barely move, or even talk, and the doctors didn't know if I ever would, either. Um, could you please help me lift up the drink, if I do it alone I'll end up wearing it," he laughed.
"Like most people, I had been moving my hand without thinking about it all my life and it was no big deal, right? But you know, the first time I was able to move my hand after the accident I felt a high like I had won an Olympic gold medal. I realized what an amazing gift it was to be able to move your hand, or even have one. It's still not 100%, but you should have seen me a couple of months ago."
I helped him lift the cup and felt my hand start to tingle as Jonnie continued. "Then I started seeing other things different too. "I used to complain if my mom didn't make exactly the food I liked, but then I discovered what a gift it was to be able to eat anything. You know at first I could only drink a little water, and had to ‘eat' everything through this tube in my arm! Now as you can see, I'm up to soup and ice-cream!"
"Doin' okay Jonnie?" asked the nurse, popping in head.
"Great!" he smiled, "I have excellent help." I blushed as he went on. "I had always been kind of grumpy and a loner at home, but here all the nurses I needed to help me with every little thing made me realize what a gift it was to have other people around who were willing to help."
I gulped as I remembered the not-so-nice parting comment I had made to the hard-working serving lady about the lunch in school that day.
"I'm not telling you it's been easy, Gary—it hasn't, but in a way this accident has been the best thing that could have happened to me. One thing I do know, at least as far as my attitude goes, I'm way healthier now than before I got here."
‘ALL VISITING STUDENTS PLEASE RETURN TO THE MAIN LOBBY' came the announcement crackling over the intercom. The time had flown, and as I looked into this amazing kid's glowing face, I could see that he meant every word he said. We shook hands and made plans to see each other again.
I got back out to the van and the social worker turned to me, "Hey Gary, how did the cheer-up visit go?"
"Great, the kid really cheered me up a lot." I smiled. I thought he would be surprised, but he looked like he understood exactly what I meant.
Q. Q. How did Gary feel when he first went to visit the kid in the hospital?
A. He felt like he had to cheer up the kid who was going to be really sad because of what happened to him.
Q. How did he feel after meeting Jonnie?
A. He saw how happy Jonnie was and saw how difficulties can help a person grow.
Q. What did Gary learn from the time he spent with Jonnie?
A. He had assumed that since Jonnie was laid up in the hospital he was going to be cranky and miserable. But when he got there and saw how up the kid was, he couldn't believe it. But his biggest surprise came when Jonnie told him how it was the very experience of the accident and all the hard times that came with it which gave him a new and brighter outlook on life that made him feel more up than he ever had before.
Q. Why do you think Jonnie appreciated things like walking and eating, after his accident more than before it?
A. We all have many wonderful gifts from G-d, starting with life itself on down. But human nature is to fall into the trap of just taking these for granted. Jonnie's experience of almost losing these gifts was a wake-up call that helped him to really see, and appreciate all the gifts he really had.
Age 10 and up
Q. Why do difficulties build a person up?
A. Just like a person's body gets stronger through working hard and doing exercise, so does their character. An easy life, as pleasant as it may be, has the side effect of leaving one's character a little weak and flabby. We needn't seek out difficulties, nor do what we can to avoid them, but if and when they do come, we should know that we are getting a soul work-out, and if we handle them right, we will come out the other end both stronger and happier people.
Q. Is all the pain worth the gain?
A. . It depends on what we are aiming for. If our idea of a good life is just to coast through it as smoothly as we can, it's hard to see the benefit of hard times. But if we begin to see life in a spiritual and Godly framework and focus on the everlasting value of wisdom and character growth, the growth we gain from hard times will seem worth the price and maybe even a bargain.