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  • Marilyn Saltzman

Response-ability

It was a rare gift, an unscheduled Friday, nothing on the calendar until the evening potluck at Beth Evergreen. Set to lead the Mussar (Jewish ethics) discussion, I had prepared my handout the day before. So I decided I’d go to the Senior Fit class at the gym. When I learned the class was cancelled, I did some “constructive exercise” by cleaning house. Then I spent 15 minutes on my elliptical and pulled the Pepto pink weights from the closet. I had just begun some shoulder-strengthening “lawn mowers” when the phone rang.

“Do you have any water?” my neighbor asked.

“I’ll check.” Entering the bathroom, I turned on the faucet. It sputtered out a few drops and stopped.

“Nope.”

Hmm. My long-awaited shower would have to wait longer. I couldn’t wash the romaine lettuce for the potluck. Two hours later, still without water, I left for the synagogue, hoping we would have that precious resource when I returned. Irv, suffering from a head cold, stayed behind.

I washed the lettuce at Beth Evergreen and created my salad. About 30 people gathered, and we broke into small groups to discuss texts about the middah (soul trait) of the month – responsibility. In previous sessions, Rabbi Jamie had talked about response-ability, the ability to respond to others.

One of the quotes I had chosen for discussion was from an Alan Morinis article in The Mussar Institute newsletter. It read:  “A person who has grasped the importance of responsibility and has implanted that trait in his or her heart will find opportunities to use it, whether on the large stage of fulfilling their life mission or in the mundane and menial tasks required in their home.”

The synagogue event drew to a close, and I called home to find out about the water.

“Still none,” Irv reported.

“Hmm. Maybe I should fill some bottles here at the synagogue or I can stop at Safeway and buy some gallon jugs.” I shared my dilemma with the guests who were helping clean up the social hall.

Without missing a beat, my friend Ben said, “I think I have a jerry can in my car that I use for water when we go camping.” He raced out, returning with a smile and a huge red plastic container. He filled it with water and carried it out to my car.  A shining example of response-ability.

On the way home, I stopped at Safeway to buy some groceries and gallon jugs of water as additional backup. When I got to my street, I was greeted with bright yellow lights, a backhoe and men dressed in neon vests. There was an eight-foot deep trench stretching across the road where the water department was trying to locate and mend the broken pipe. I couldn’t drive to my house, so I called my neighbor and got permission to leave my car in her driveway. I grabbed two gallons of water along with grocery bags filled with milk, eggs and yogurt and started walking up the hill to my house. I left the heavy jerry can in the car, figuring I’d retrieve it in the morning.

Suddenly, Don, the water department operator, was at my side.

“Give me those, Marilyn,” he said, taking the gallon bottles from my hands. He walked by my side, guiding me through the ditch past the massive excavation, his typical cheerful demeanor undaunted by the fact that he had already been working outside for several hours and might well be spending the night in the trench.

Don escorted me all the way into my garage, leaving the water at the doorstep. Then he returned to the work at hand. The water line was repaired before 2 a.m., our service restored. Yet Don and his crew remained on site for several more hours, refilling the gaping hole in the road. An example of a responsible person as defined by Morinis, Don had fulfilled his mission as a water operator and embraced the mundane task of walking me home, ensuring my safety.

I was grateful for Ben’s and Don’s instinctive, generous acts of response-ability.  Once again, through the kindness of others, I learned more than I taught about the middah of the month.

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