Untold suffering seldom is. –Franklin P. Jones
I’ve only met my friend E once, and despite the fact that I’m not 100% sure she would recognize me on the street, I consider her a good friend. She lifts me up when I am down, gives me strength when I am weak, entertains me when I am bored, and all without realizing it. And, best of all, she laughs at my jokes.
E is a Facebook friend. I read her posts avidly. She posts divrei Torah, uplifting stories, and, most importantly, different segulot.
Just over a month ago, E posted that Kislev, the month in which the holiday of Chanuka falls, is an especially propitious time for miracles.
E told us she had learned that to nudge a miracle into coming, on the Shabbat before the first day of Kislev, at candle lighting time, we should pray for something we seriously need (i.e., not a mink coat or that pair of boots you’ve been ogling, but rather a job, health, or a partner) and then for the whole month – from the first day of Kislev to the last day of Chanuka – if we manage not to complain out loud, we will be a witness to the needed miracle.
Now, to be honest, I’m not one for segulot. To me, they smack of superstition. I’ve followed some of E’s other segulot—most notably when she suggested I read a certain part of the Torah as a segula for a job, Lo and behold, extra hours were added on to my job, a mere hour later. Honest.
This one, well, I liked it. It would be fun to see if I could go a whole month without complaining. I was quite confident, actually. I’m not a complainer. I never complain if I’m hot or cold like my colleagues at work do Every. Five. Minutes. I’m not a picky eater, I don’t complain if there are tomatoes in the salad, or onions in the kugel like my kids do Every. Single. Meal.
So what if I have nothing to wear, and there’s never anything good on TV, that Israeli politics are poison (I might not even vote this time round, they’re all a bunch of losers!). Me, complain??
I don’t get upset when someone puts a carton of milk back into the fridge with exactly one drop in it (can’t they just finish it, for heaven sake!) or one noodle is left in a huge container (what does that mean, you’re too stuffed to eat one more noodle. Do me a favor). I don’t care if mud is tracked all over my just-washed floor (oh, for heaven sake), or the lights are left on (that wouldn’t happen if they paid the bills).
Really. I don’t.
And so, I entered the month certain I would get my much needed miracle at the end.
I’ll put you out of your suspense now.
It turns out that I’m quite bad at not complaining.
In fact, I might become a professional complainer. I’m pretty darn good at it already.
Two separate things happened almost simultaneously and almost immediately, on that very first Shabbat.
The first was that I noticed how much other people complain:
“It’s hot in here, how can you stand it?”
“It’s cold in here, how can you stand it?”
“I don’t like tomatoes in the salad”
“Whoever left the lights on in their room can pay the electric bill!”
“Why is there an empty carton of milk in the fridge?”
It was a cacophony of noise. I stopped hearing words; all I heard was wah wah wah.
The second thing that happened was that I noticed how much I complain.
I started out bravely. When my husband asked, “How was work?” I didn’t let out the five- and six-letter words (MUCH worse than four-letters) that were popping from my brain; lousy, yucky, crappy.
“Just jim dandy”, I said the first day, even though it hadn’t been. Great, fine, and ok followed on other days. I bit back the comments about the witchy boss, or how hot it was because everyone else was cold, or about the boring work, or the guy who yelled at me, or the stupid printer that ate my work, or, well, all the other things that make my day so super.
I bit my lips, then had to hold back complaining about how much my lips hurt.
Luckily, E never said anything about putting on a happy face.
Sometimes, I wasn’t all that successful at lip-biting. But I tried.
I came home from a simcha one evening, and my daughter asked how it was. Without thinking, I said “food was ‘orrible”. (I’m Canadian, and there’s no earthly reason to drop my ‘aitches’, but I do it when I’m complaining). Then I stopped, and said ‘but it was lovely, really, it was a nice place and I saw lots of friends. ’
I kept saying the right words, but they also sounded like wah wah wah.
After a few days of bleeding lips, I decided that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I would say nothing at all.
I nodded a lot instead of answering ‘NO!’ when asked if work was ok. I held back ‘yes, my favorite part of my day is unfolding your smelly socks!‘ when asked ‘Did you wash my socks’. I did not say ‘yes, but make sure you eat the whole thing instead of throwing half away. Do you know how much apples cost these days and also there are children in Yemen who would die to have that apple, don’t tell me about it being bruised‘ when the kid asked if he could have an apple?.
The question ‘did anyone call’ was answered with a shake of my head instead of ‘What, am I your secretary now?‘. When the kid asked ‘is there anything I can menashnesh on?’ I calmly continued to shake my head rather than say ‘You think I have a cookie tree??’, and even when I was asked if I had bought a present for xxx, I DID NOT SAY ‘it’s your friend, why do I have to spend my day running around looking for a present?‘ Not once did I say ‘What, am I a restaurant?’. Instead I silently pointed to the fridge when asked what’s for supper?
The thing is, nobody noticed that I was only head shaking and pointing at the fridge and not talking.
That means that nobody ever listens to me. I work myself to the bone, and all they care about are their cookies and me doing errands for them. Ungrateful…
But I digress.
I live with several people of the male persuasion. I know that they have mouths and tongues because I’ve seen them eat, but otherwise one could be excused for thinking they had gills for all they use them to communicate. The only thing they say during the course of the day is to ask me for something (Can you fix my pants? Can I have the car? What’s for supper?). Is asking how I am too hard for them?? They could tell me a funny story after my awful day at work. Is this too much to ask??
Meal time became pretty quiet. I was determined not to complain about anything. (Why can’t you use a knife??). I let someone else make conversation. (Who didn’t put a serving spoon into the noodles?) Somebody else must have done something fun today, but if I mention anything about my day/job I’ll just complain (stop dropping crumbs on the floor, you have a plate RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Now I’m going to have to sweep AND wash dishes because nobody else sweeps in this house OR washes dishes. EVER), and I was desperately determined to stop complaining.
A week of the no-complaints experiment went by. I had lots of complaints, but most of them were left unsaid. Except in the car. I allowed myself to take out all the week’s complaints on unknowing drivers (aka jerks). “Why does this guy think he can take up THREE parking spaces? Of all the nerve. Hey Jerk, don’t come crying to me if someone rams into you for going so slow. Whattasmatter with this jerk? He thinks he owns the whole road. AND he probably doesn’t use a KNIFE, and he puts back the milk WITH ONE DROP IN IT!! OR WORSE!!! he leaves it OUT!!!!!”
After a week, I was feeling pretty miserable. Half my life seemed to be made up of complaining, nobody had noticed that I had stopped, and the kid still wasn’t using his knife.
The second week was spent feeling pretty sorry for myself. Why can’t anything ever go right for me?
It was only by the third week that I knew I had to do something. If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all is a great axiom. I decided to take the first half of the sentence seriously. I would find nice things to say, instead of complaining.
That’s a nice shirt, I said to my son referring to the sweat shirt he has worn every day for two weeks. He looked at me as if I had grown a beard.
The table is set so nicely, I said of the mismatched cutlery and no glasses. My daughter thought I was talking in my sleep.
It became a little easier as time went on.
What a great supper! I said of the eggs and leftover challah that I had thrown on the table.
Little by little, I began telling funny stories, reported on interesting articles I had read in the paper, and recommended the book I was reading.
The stories didn’t always get a laugh, the articles weren’t as interesting as I thought they were, and everyone had already seen the movie on their smartphone, but hey, nobody complained.
By the fourth week, Chanuka, I managed not to complain that the sufganiyot didn’t have enough jam, that the latkes were too oily, and the candles made SUCH A MESS. Because, y’know, who cares? I have better things to talk about.
Instead, we sang songs, even though I’m completely tone-deaf, played with the grandkid, saw trains, and just had a good time.
Chanuka ended. I’m allowed to complain again.
But I’m going to see how it goes not complaining; at least not quite as much. Complaining doesn’t seem to help. I guarantee that the carton of milk that is in my fridge has exactly one drop in it – I know this because I put it there myself – and the jerk driver still takes up three spots. I feel better looking for the good things rather than talking about the bad. And once in a while, somebody laughs at my jokes.
As for the needed miracle – well, I see miracles every day.