This I Believe

Elaine - Miami, Florida
Entered on September 17, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in the one out of ten rule that I created when my eight year-old daughter was selling candy door-to-door for a fundraiser. Her pink padded world was shaken when Frannie Bloom’s dad didn’t buy anything. I told her that among any ten people, she could be sure that one would likely disappoint or bother her for some reason. I also said the other nine would be okay. And I crossed my fingers. That night, she told her dad that Mr. Bloom did have his beer belly and was sensible to watch his weight, while everyone else just loved her selection of chocolate.

In September she came home in tears. That boy Teddy was in her class again. For three years he was the one whose disruptive behavior had stymied her class’ efforts to win a pizza party. The teacher eventually excluded him from the competition. My daughter wisely observed that it is human nature that some kids have trouble conforming.

Immediately after the 1979 peace accord was signed between Israel and Egypt, I visited Cairo with an Israeli. The Egyptians instinctively knew we were American and Israeli. We heard “Sadat- Rabin- Carter” everywhere and for each silent stare we encountered innumerable outstretched hands.. In cafes, restaurants, and markets, everyone insisted on offering coffee. Men on the street stopped us and touched their hearts gesturing universal language we all understood: peace, food, my son.

This spring, I traveled to the European village where my father was born. He was a Holocaust Survivor. In the US he worked 80 hours a week, insuring our economic prosperity and avoiding memory of the brutal deaths of his mother and sister. His unrelenting grief and anger polluted our entire lives. With tremendous trepidation I went to judge for myself.

I spoke to elderly villagers outside their church, who brought me to tears when I heard their stories of slave labor, broken families, and leveled towns. They hugged me when they heard about my father. In Auschwitz I learned that the first 60,000 people murdered were Poles, not Jews, and that 200,000 blond Polish infants had been taken by the Nazis to repopulate Germany. All of Europe was touched by the insanity of that time. My trip purged my inherited suffering and resentment when I understood that the perpetrators equaled one part but the hapless bystanders and victims equaled the other nine.

Over time, I have viewed the world with my children’s optimism, through the haze of the Holocaust, between the pages of my travels and graduate degrees. Like the round pieces of glass the optometrist layers in goggles to improve my sight, my experiences have clarified my vision of people, leading me to favor optimism. So while I taught my daughter to tolerate one out of ten, we now focus on the others, and I have revised my rule in celebration of them.

I believe in the nine out of ten rule.