I was sitting on a stoop in Boro Park, a Chassidic enclave of Brooklyn, NY, with the brother of a venerable Jerusalem Rabbi. It was Friday night, and I had come there by train and taxi a few hours, maybe twelve hours, before. I was nineteen, naïve, and in desperate search of a shidduch – a match. Yeah, like in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. I had come to this man’s house to spend the Sabbath with him and his family so they could “look me over” for a potential gentleman. Many may be offended by this idea; I was not. For one, I wanted to meet this man, also a Rabbi, who I had heard so much about from his brother, my teacher, in Jerusalem. Second, I saw this as a huge adventure, an opportunity to expand my experiences, learn, and perhaps get a date out of the ordeal.
So, I’m sitting on this stoop on a Friday night. So far, they have me all wrong – very disappointing. They think I’m observant, seeing everything and taking it all in. I want them to think that. I want to be that. But, woefully, I am not. I’m just some nervous, suburban kid totally out of her element in foreign territory.
After dinner, I’ve been led to this stoop to “talk.” After the Rabbi recounts his own search for truth in his life, I vividly remember being asked a singular question. “What do you want out of life?” or something to that effect. The answer came as a reflex, without thinking, not because I had been programmed to respond that way, but because it was so integral to who I was and am; it was like asking what color my eyes are.
“I want to be the best person I can be,” I responded. Of course, he closed his eyes for a moment then said, “Do you know what most people answer? They want to be happy.” I blinked. Yeah, I guess. It never really crossed my mind. Did I answer incorrectly? Does it matter? I answered honestly, correctly for me. Of course, there is a caveat that I have discovered as I have aged. Best Changes. As one reaches their best, he needs to reach further. As life changes, for better and for worse, my best becomes more, and less, than I did the day before. I strive to do my best whatever that may be at any given moment. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.