Trading Eyeglasses: How NOT to Cope with Life's Challenges

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This post is part of a 7-week series of excerpts from the book of the year Mothers to Mothers: Women Across the Globe Share the Joys and Challenges of Jewish Motherhood by Julie Hauser (Artscroll), a collection of honest and colorful interviews with 30 Orthodox mothers sprinkled with insightful and inspiring mothering advice from respected educators and rebbetzins.

Enjoy this week’s excerpts:

Sheryl: In transition as child-bearing years end. Exploring career again. From Boston.

I think the real trick in life is to really embrace how God made you, and your neighbors. To know that everyone in your life has come to you exactly as prescribed. One big moment that reinforced that notion is this story: I had just learned, “Your life is designed for you in the same manner that your eyeglasses are prescribed for you.” It’s a carefully measured calculation. You visit with a trained professional with equipment that carefully measures and grinds the glass, and if they’re done wrong they don’t work. They have to be made correctly.

And so, your life is your pair of glasses. It really is your hashgachah [God’s will for you] ; it really is made exactly for who you are and what you need as your tikkun [spiritual fixing].

So I had just heard this vort [teaching] about the eyeglass prescriptions, and I was at work with someone. And we had very similar glasses. And we both had the habit of taking off our glasses and laying them on the table. And I literally picked up her glasses, put them on my face, and couldn’t see. I was baffled. “What’s wrong? Were my glasses dirty?” I pulled them off, and looked at them, and realized that they were her glasses. And I felt like God was handing me the visceral experience that I had just read in a book.

Author’s (Julie Hauser’s) note:
The essay by Malky Feig, “Making the Mark,” in her book Mirrors and Windows,* explains how when she was in high school, one way the exams were proctored was to give different exams to different students seated near each other. That way, even if someone wanted to cheat, it was impossible. Someone next to her might have had, on the first page of her exam, an essay to write about social studies, while on her own exam, geometry problems were first. It was called the “shuffling system.” She described it as a form of solitary confinement because she was forced to tune out other people’s whispers, and ignore whether or not her friend nearby had turned the first page yet. It was like being together with everyone, yet being on one’s own island. I have highlighted excerpts of the essay to illustrate the point of what the women in this chapter learned and expressed:

By Malky Feig: from her book Mirrors and Windows

…We may be in the same room, seemingly scribbling together, but it’s our own test we’re taking.

We may be the same age, at the same stage. We may share common friends, budgets, number of children. We may face the same hardships, syndromes, diagnoses. We may live in the same communities, consult the same rabbis, pray in the same shul. We may even be confronted with the same questions.

But it isn’t the same exam we’re taking.

Passing the test that our destiny hands us is not something we can do by looking at the next person’s paper. We cannot copy decisions, transcribe conclusions, imitate resolutions. It’s a tactic doomed to failure.

At times, it’s ever so tempting to raise our eyes from the paper, and steal a furtive glance around the room. What’s everybody else doing?
“Everybody else,” though, is a deceptive consolidation, a mistaken illusion. There is no everybody else. One is tackling Math, another one History. One is taking dikduk [grammar], another Yahadus [Torah Studies]. Each one of us is on another grade level, on a separate assignment.

That person sitting in the next desk may have all the right answers.
For his test.

He may have the supportive family you don’t have, the financial backing, the available time. She may have different physical and emotional needs, different levels of stamina and intelligence. His family may be more demanding, her job less grueling, their house more accommodating. They may have a child with special needs, a health consideration you don’t know about, a rabbi or rebbe guiding them in a certain direction.

Copy them, and you’ve failed.

We have to look inward, weigh our own personal set of variables, and figure out the answers to our individual challenges. We may have to pause when others are jotting confidently; we may have to sit over a question long after the others have gone out to recess, but we’ve got to figure it out for ourselves.

For ourselves; fortunately, not by ourselves. Because the Ultimate Proctor bears no resemblance to His mortal counterparts. He shuffles the students and hands out the papers. And then He helps us get through the questions. One at a time…

Excerpted From Mirrors and Windows, by Malky Feig, Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2005, reprinted with permission.

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