September 8, 2010
Pay It Forward
Tonight is Rosh Hashanah. Oh the pressure. ‘Cause if it’s not enough to deal with lots of baking, cooking and cleaning, organizing, and shopping, primping, and dealing, (look at me I sound like a pimp) you gotta also take inventory and face your own guilt, misconducts, culpabilities and wrongdoings. (Maybe I am a pimp?) As I go through my rolodex of sins that I am serving G-d on a silver platter this Wednesday night for him to excuse, I can’t help but think of some of my virtues I clearly managed to squeeze in between the gossip, evil plotting, and secret revenge schemes I had going for every Escalade driver that cut me off on the freeway, every teacher that yelled at me during carpool to get off my phone, and every salesman that stopped by my house during dinner time and homework to ask me if I would participate in a survey. And no- those don’t just take a minute!
It was Friday morning when my family learned that my dad was in the hospital. Within two hours we were on a plane headed to Chico for Shabbat. And like every Starbucks coffee house, which is plotted on every corner of the world, less than a mile away from the Chico hospital was a Chabad House. We called the Rabbi to inform him of our emergency, and of course, his wife had just come home that day from having a baby, so he invited all nine of us to spend shabbos with him and his family. This young couple was hugely inconvenienced, and clearly just adjusting to a new baby, plus three other small children, and yet without any hesitation at all, they accepted us with opened arms into their home last minute.
Please understand- we are not an easy bunch. We are emotional, we are loud, and we are quite honest about our feelings. To put it mildly, when we came home from the hospital that Friday night after witnessing our father’s untimely passing we weren’t shy about using expletives that I am sure this sweet Chassidic family had ever been privy to hearing before, let alone ever using. For if it’s one thing the Shallmans are not good at, it is composure during crisis. After crisis we are the best to have around, but during a crisis, we are a melodramatic hot-blooded tearful bunch (mostly it was me doing the hysterical rambling, but I feel better making it sound like it was all of us, so I don’t seem too insane. For sure you can exclude my brothers from this, mostly it’s my sisters and me. Okay it was mainly myself.) I really wanted to apologize to this family for having to deal with such an awfully awkward and unbearable shabbos. I felt so badly we disrupted their family time, this woman’s recovery time, this sweet Rabbi’s private time- of course I had clearly traumatized their children with my ranting crying fits. Leaving them a big check just didn’t seem enough. I really wanted to repay them with something, anything. But what do you get a family who has seen you at your worst, welcomed you into their home unexpectedly and even walked far in the middle of the night to deliver food to your family at the hospital? You pay it forward. Because if it’s one thing Chabadnicks do best, it is realizing that every good deed is there to pass on to another person in need.
This week I had the privilege of sharing in this couple’s gift they had given my family. I received a call from a relative who had mentioned her dear friend was flying into Los Angeles from Israel to be with his sister who was in hospice near my home and she had asked me if I would host her friend. Of course I was planning Rosh Hashanah, and a trip to Chico for my father’s memorial, but I remembered the Rabbi and Rebbetzin in Chico, and their kindness, and I did not hesitate to welcome my new guest. Upon arriving to my home, his voice crackled as he relayed the sad news that his sister had died that very night. I was so sad for him, and yet so very grateful that I could return the favor by sharing my home with him in this most difficult time, as Rabbi and Mrs. Zweibel had done for me not just one month ago. And because I had the privilege of having such great role models, I knew exactly what to do! I even offered him to use whatever language he felt like using to let off some steam. Funny, he didn’t have the urge to participate in any loud tirades that resulted in embarrassing outbreaks.
The gentleman sat shiva while staying at my home and I insisted his family come and stay with us for Shabbos as well. His niece and I cried over losing our parents in the same month. We laughed about the irony of circumstances that revolved around our good fortune to meet each other even if it was as a result of her mother’s passing. I even got to send over dinner to the shiva house and re-pay the favor of feeding mourners, as so many had done for my family only four short weeks ago.
In all my years, I have never ever had anyone stay at my home with his particular situation. What a strangely providential series of events that allowed for me to re-pay the greatest Mitzvah back before I have to go to the Big Guy tonight and once again beseech him as to why I deserve a sweet year and a large reprieve for that time that I secretly wished Josh the survey guy’s clipboard was run over by the Escalade.