“‘I see!’ said the blind man.”
This was my grandmother Agnes’s favorite saying. She said it when something became clear to her. She saw, she understood. “‘I see!’ said the blind man.” She was the blind man, and then she wasn’t.
But while my grandmother’s expression was one that often made us laugh, coming as it did as a surprise punctuation at the end of a generally ordinary sentence (“Grandma, I’m going into the eighth grade”–“‘I see!’ said the blind man”), thinking about it now, it strikes me as more than a little useful in these crazy, chaotic years of parenting young kids.
Re’eh. “See.” That is how this week’s Torah portion begins. It’s Moses again, and he’s still talking to the Israelites. Now, he’s urging them to open their eyes and see what’s all around them. “You can see that I am placing before you both a blessing and a curse. The blessing will come if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I am prescribing you today,” Moses tells his people. Then he goes on to talk about kashrut and pilgrimage festivals. Observe, and things will be OK. Turn astray, and watch out.
Have you ever had a moment where you realized you’d been ignoring something really huge, and once you’ve seen it, for at least a few moments, your perspective shifts, and sets you on a course far more productive than the one you were traveling just a few minutes earlier?
This happened to me in the grocery store yesterday. I don’t know about you, but since camp ended and I’ve been home with my kids far more than usual, and have felt the pressure of work while trying to also keep two preschoolers entertained and sunscreened and happy, I have been–how shall I put it? Less than patient. Unkind at times. Stressed out. Not a great version of myself.
I have two kids, but when they’re together, it often feels like I have four kids, or five–actually, I have a pack of wild dogs who mean well but can’t help but trip over their own feet and pull cereal boxes off shelves and cackle maniacally and generally make a simple trip to the grocery store anything but.
But yesterday, somehow, we made it to the check out line. My kids insisted on hoisting glass jars and cartons of eggs onto the cashier’s belt. They hopped from one foot to another, begged for chocolate, knocked into the other shoppers. My blood pressure steadily rose. I swiped my card; the patient cashier bagged our groceries. And I shouldn’t have been surprised when I heard the loud crash or the chorus that always follows: my kid’s sob and wail.
My muscles tensed. I poised to yell. I closed my eyes. I wanted to drop the bags, run from the store.
I looked down, ready to reprimand, only to see my tiny girl, the one who didn’t fall down, kneeling, arms outstretched, helping her twin sister up, the one who was splayed out on the floor, crying. I stood there silently, and watched Avi help Maya up, and I watched Avi hug Maya, and I watched Maya compose herself. I took our grocery bags, steered them out the door, and exhaled sharply.
See. Re’eh. Open your eyes.
In this portion, Moses is telling the Israelites to see the choice between good and bad, to observe the commandments and choose a path of loyalty to God. But I’m talking about a different kind of observance. I’m talking about observing the good that’s all around me, about seeing the good and maybe trying to ignore the bad, a little more.
Within the chaos of my life, I often become blind to the really good. And not just the big, huge good–health, safety, a home, friends and family–but smaller moments of exquisite good, like when a child reaches her hand out to help another child, and does it instinctively.
Yesterday, for a moment, I saw. And it was good.
To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.