I remember it vividly. I was seventeen years old and home visiting from yeshivah (Jewish/Rabbinic school). My hard-working father was relaxing on the couch in our suburban home when my younger brother ran in. He was in tears. As it turns out, the neighbors kid wasn’t allowing my brother to join the rest of his friends on the basketball hoop. His dad banned our family until “the Rabbi mows his lawn.” Now mind you, we weren’t talking about some kind of overgrown jungle left unattended. Our neighbor would proudly march across his lawn weekly in his custom sports jerseys mowing his lawn to measuring stick perfection. My dad, with eleven kids to support and a community requiring his constant attention, didn’t have that kind of luxury.
I was fuming—I mean really mad—and prepared myself to march over to their house and give that man a piece of my mind. My dad, is his infinite patience looked up from his bible study and said, “Don’t worry, I will handle him.” “Are you sure?” I asked (quite protectively for seventeen). “Don’t worry, I will handle it,” he said. I believed him and left to blow off some steam at the gym. Upon returning shortly thereafter, I found my dad engaged in his solution; he was mowing the lawn.
There are no words to express the feelings I experienced that day. I was angry, righteously indignant, politically fired up and most of all disappointed in my dad. In many senses, I was right. Why let this man get away with treating us with disrespect. Who was he? And who were we to enable this behavior? Why shouldn’t we stand up for ourselves as Jews and Americans? How could we let such behavior and such people win?
That day was a lesson I continue to learn from, and grow from as I mature each day. As always, my dad stayed a few steps ahead. He realized that, sometimes, there are some things you cannot change and some people you cannot control. He understood and internalized a concept I am still working on, that of acceptance. Like the serenity prayer many a client of mine says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Today, the neighbor and our family are good friends and, with eleven kids, eleven grandkids, numerous parked cars, and extra traffic, it seems they too have learned to practice acceptance.
It is important to note that acceptance does not mean subjecting oneself to abuse or degradation, and this is also an important part of knowing the difference. After all, there is an element of every situation that you can control, that being yourself and how you react and adjust to it. Sometimes acceptance means having enough self-respect to know you cannot change others and, thus, wisdom to know how to live your life free of those trolls.