Q&A for Teens: People Connection
With a few precious minutes, you can change a kid’s life.
There’s a kid who lives across the street from me, and he seems kind of sad and lonely. But he’s much younger than I am, and I’m just not sure if there’s anything I can do for him, even though I want to. Any advice?
Lauren Roth's Answer
I made an absolutely awesome, healthful, incredibly delicious, and intensely beautiful dinner tonight.
There was a wooden bowl filled with dark green fresh raw spinach leaves, a blue bowl of deep purple-colored cabbage with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, which made the dark purple cabbage exude a lavender/dusty-pink colored juice, a plate of heirloom baby tomatoes which were orange and light red and bright red and light yellow and spring green, in interesting shapes, like pear-shaped and round and watermelon-shaped…tan chick peas in that awesome chick-pea shape (!), bright green broccoli and bright white cauliflower garnished with bright green parsley, orange steamed carrots with yellow and green steamed baby patty squashes, and golden, crispy baked schnitzel. For dessert, we had steaming mugs of light green, slightly sweetened mint tea. Yummmm. Oh, and on the table were pink and green and white hydrangeas floating in a glass bowl of clear water. Niiiice.
Why am I telling you this? (No, it’s not because you accidentally clicked onto Bon Apetit.com instead of Aish.com.)
I am telling you this because I really love all of you, my readers, out there, even though I don’t know you personally. I wish I could invite all of you over to my house for dinner. But I can’t, so at least I can give you the gift of sharing dinner with us in your imagination.
Erich Fromm, eminent psychologist and philosopher, explains in The Art of Loving that the deepest need of humans is to connect with other people. If I made an amazing dinner and only I ate it, I would enjoy it, but a deep psychological/spiritual/emotional need is filled when I share my dinner/description of the amazing dinner I prepared…my painting/my cancer research/my sonata/my novel/my friendship/a beautiful vista…etc… with another human. If you connect with your young neighbor, that connection can fill a deep need in him.
The fact that the neighbor in question is young and you are older reminds me of Don Pelts. Don Pelts was just about the nicest man I have ever had the pleasure to know. He was my parents’ good friend, and he died last week.
Two things strike me about Don, and I’m going to use both of them to answer your question. One: even when I was seven years old, he spoke to me like I was another adult. His daughter was my age, and he would listen to our ideas, praise our ideas, tell us jokes, involve us in the adult conversation, ask about our school and our teachers and our friends—and really pay attention to our answers. He made us feel like real people. Like people who mattered. Long before I was old enough to read How to Win Friends and Influence People in order to know how to connect with others, I was learning how to sincerely engage other people from Don Pelts.
To this day, because of how great it made me feel when he interacted with me and his daughter as if we mattered, I greet all the children on our block and engage them when I walk past them. He taught me that even little people immensely enjoy being treated like people.
The other salient point about Don is this, and this point also speaks to your query: he was the owner and CEO of the wildly successful Corky’s Barbeque. And his passing gave me pause to think: what will I have given the world when my time comes?
You have a tremendous opportunity to take a few moments of your life to change a kid’s life.
Every moment, we have a choice: what will I give the world this moment? You have a tremendous opportunity to take a few moments of your life to change a kid’s life. You have a tremendous gift that you can give this kid. Why not give it, Don Pelts-style? That is, by making that kid feel like he matters?
When I heard the news about Don’s passing, I immediately picked up the phone and called my Aunt Joan and Uncle Phillip and my Aunt Diane and Uncle Larry and my Aunt Doris and Uncle Butch (those are not my real uncles and aunts, but in the South we give close friends relational appellations), to thank them; those were the other people in my life who taught me how to make children feel important and respected—by giving me respect and loving attention when I was a kid.
I cannot tell you how much these older individuals shaped my life and my behaviors because they treated me like I was a real person. It’s almost like God put your neighbor right across the street from you to give you this opportunity to change his life for the better.
You don’t have to be an adult to make kids feel great. The best support and succor and source of strength for a child is often a doting older sibling, a caring older cousin, or a kind older neighbor. You can be a kid and still make kids feel great about themselves, like Don Pelts and my “aunts and uncles” did for me. You don’t have to be an adult to do it. We leave our legacies moment by moment, by connecting meaningfully with other people, no matter what our age.
So wave and smile at your neighbor across the street. Tell him you like his basketball shot. Tell another neighbor you like her jump rope pizzazz. Read a book to your younger sibling. Tell them you like their style. Go hug your mother. Go sit with your father. Take a bike ride together. Have a Shabbos meal together. Learn something together. Bring your young neighbor a pizza to share together.
Use your moments well, to connect meaningfully with other people. You can make a difference to a child simply by connecting with him. “Oh, very young, what will you leave us this time? You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.”