Her name was Laura Dirken and she had the loveliest locks in the grade. Don’t believe me? The proof still lies in the hall of fame section of my 8th grade yearbook where you’ll see that Ms. Dirken was voted “best hair” in our class. If you think those things are just popularity contests, you’re absolutely right, but in Laura’s case she was both popular and had great hair. Laura’s tresses were long (to her waist), shiny, and dark brown. They had this heavy silkiness to them so that they almost moved in slow motion, cascading as she’d walk.
My hair has always been nice, but never Laura Dirken quality, so imagine my delight when my younger daughter started sprouting the locks of my dreams five years ago. In truth, her hair doesn’t hold a braid very well because it’s so slippery – but who cares – it’s perfect in every other way. Well, at least according to me – not the hair stylist who was cutting it this past Sunday. “Isn’t her hair so pretty?” I asked the stylist. (OK, I told the stylist, I’m an obnoxious mother – so sue me!) “It doesn’t hold a braid so well, but I always wanted hair like that,” I explained.
“It doesn’t hold anything well,” retorted the stylist. “It’s just like mine, and I hate it! The woman was older and had her long bleached hair pulled back in a ponytail, hiding the fact that she was hair-twins with my daughter. “I can’t curl it, I can’t braid it, I can’t do anything with it,” she grumbled. “I always wished my hair was different.” “How ungrateful!” I thought.
People are often so quick to see the negatives with their lot as they gaze longingly at someone else’s. But how do we appreciate what we have when it’s so much easier to look to the next guy and covet away? I think it comes down to remembering what we deserve. A rabbi of mine from seminary once explained that there’s no such word as “fair” in the Hebrew language.
If you want to say “fair,” you have to actually say “fair,” as modern Hebrew borrowed the word from English. There is justice in Hebrew, in terms of right and wrong, (that word is “tzedek”) but “fair” is more of an idea of what’s coming to me. And what do we deserve? What’s coming to us? Absolutely nothing.
My rabbi went on: so often people ask “why do bad thing happen to good people?” but they never ask “Why do good things happen to good people?” We walk around with a sense of entitlement, but in truth every little thing we’re given is a gift. An amazing gift from Above. And we should thank our lucky stars for every bit of blessing we get in this world.
When my kids start demanding things, as kids often do, I like to remind them how unbalanced our relationship is. “Who gave you life?” I ask. “You,” they respond. “Who gives you a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear?” “You,” they continue. “Who takes you to fun places, gives you toys, and treats?” “You,” they begrudgingly reply, for by now, they realize that there is absolutely nothing that they can logically demand. Because with all they’re given, they’re only asked for two things in return – to listen and be gracious.
We are like the children when it comes to God, and we remind ourselves everyday just how little we contribute to the relationship in our morning blessings:
What are we? What is our life? What is our kindness? What is our righteousness? What is our salvation? What is our strength? What is our might? What can we say before you Hashem, our God, and the God of our forefathers – are not all the heroes like nothing before You? The famous as if they had never existed, the wise as if devoid of wisdom and the perceptive as if devoid of intelligence? For most of their deeds are desolate and the days of their lives are empty before You. The pre-eminence of man over bet is non-existent for all is vain.
Once we’ve properly acknowledged that God doesn’t owe us anything because we can’t possibly offer anything to the Master of the Universe, the prayer comes to the same conclusion that I tell my kids: therefore, we are obliged to thank You, praise You, glorify You, bless, sanctify, and offer praise and thanks to Your Name. We are fortunate – how good is our portion, how pleasant our lot, and how beautiful our heritage!
Our gratitude equations our warped. We often see our lot in life with minuses. With all the things we’re missing. Instead, we must remember that we actually begin with nothing and are owed nothing. If your starting point is zero, then anything good you have in life will be cherished as much as that hair stylist should be cherishing her perfect, beautiful Laura Dirken hair.