2013: SOMEONE IS CALLING Or Is Good-Enough Good Enough?
In August 2005, Collin Smith was 14 years old when he was a passenger in a car accident. The teenage driver of the car lost control of the vehicle and it wound up flipping several times, before landing upside down on top of Collin. Collin suffered a compression fracture in his neck, resulting in the loss of ability to use his legs and limited mobility of his arms and fingers, which made him a quadriplegic. He spent four months in hospitals.
It was the type of accident that almost always puts an end to a teenager’s formal education. Only 5 percent of teens go back to school after an accident like that. Only 1 percent go on to college, and less than that graduate.
Collin Smith belonged to a church, and a member of that church was a retired engineer named Ernest Greene. When Greene heard what had happened, he knew he had to help. He says that he felt a “calling.” He says, “I heard about Collin’s situation and felt like that’s what the Lord wanted me to do.” Greene went to see Collin and his parents. Smith’s parents had jobs and needed assistance with their son. They were understandably overwhelmed by what had happened.
It’s now eight years later. For eight years, Greene was by Collin’s side through high school and college. He arrived at Collin’s house every day at 6 a.m., got him out of bed and ready for the day, drove him the forty-five minutes to the campus of High Point University in North Carolina, put in twelve hour days, attending classes with him, taking notes for him, pushing him three miles a day or more. “We’re a team,” says Collin. “We’ve spent an average of 8 – 9 hours a day together, five days a week for the past seven and a half years.”
“I just do what needs to be done,” Greene says.
“There’s no way to describe him,” says Collin. “Everything I’ve done was possible because of him. Ernest is a great man, but mostly he’s a faithful servant of G-d. He’s also been a tremendous help in allowing me to move forward and to see that a lot of things are possible. I just needed to experience things to know that I could do more.”
“The university actually pays me to take notes for Collin,” says Greene.
Smith majored in communication with minors in sports management and athletic coaching. His dream is to become a basketball coach.
Last May, at the graduation ceremony of High Point University in North Carolina, Greene pushed Smith in his wheelchair on to the stage to receive his degree. He was shocked when the President of the University, noting Greene’s selfless service and commitment to Collin, put a graduation robe and hood on him and honored him with an honorary degree of Bachelor of Humane Letters.
Imagine that moment.
There’s a lot of bad news out there. There is crime and war and violence.
But there is also goodness. And we don’t hear enough about the good people.
So I’ve told some of my friends about this story.
Do you have anyone in your life that loves to run everyone and everything down? I politely call my negative friend, “the Cynic.” And when I told my friend the Cynic the story of Collin Smith and Ernest Greene, he couldn’t take it. So he Googled and Bing-ed and Twittered and he came back to me with the following observations:
1. Ernest Greene was retired. He had nothing to do. This gave him something to do.
2. Greene and his wife had operated a retirement community and had a set of skills to help the physically impaired, so it wasn’t so hard for him to help Collin.
3. If Greene was so great, why did he accept money to take notes for his friend Collin?
4. If he was so great, why did he accept that honorary degree? Why did he do interviews with newspaper and television reporters? “You see,” says my friend the Cynic, “he’s just like everybody else, he’s just in it for the money and the fame.”
Now you’ll have to excuse my friend the Cynic. He’s bitter at life. He cannot stand goodness because it scares him. He has a worldview that says that everybody is terrible. He says that even when people do good things, they have other motivations which are not really so good.
So let me answer my friend the Cynic, point by point.
1. A lot of people retire and don’t do anything. Using the years when you have less structure and more free time to do good is beautiful and meaningful. A lot of people go through most of their lives wishing that they had more time to devote to volunteer work. I know a gentleman sitting over to my right who is so-called retired and we have him so busy doing things for the shul that we’re hurting his new career as a professional golfer.
Those who use retirement years to do good make this stage a very meaningful time in their lives. More power to them.
2. Did Greene use skills he already had? That’s a bad thing? One of our members who had successfully run a small business retired and then went around to small businesses that were struggling and gave them advice. He used his knowledge. This is a wonderful thing. More power to him.
3. My friend the Cynic criticizes Greene because he accepted money for taking notes for Collin. But I would counter that there had to be a lot of expenses involved, like money for commuting to school, etc. Why is accepting money a dirty thing? If the university had funds to help physically challenged students, why not accept this money? More power to him.
4. My friend says that Greene should not have received that honorary degree. Are you kidding? He did not know he was going to receive it. But what if he had? Greene attended every class and took notes. He deserved a degree. The diploma was a Bachelor of Humane Letters. This is humanity at its best. More power to High Point University for understanding that the devotion to another human being and to education that Greene showed was exactly what the university stands for. This was one of the high points of that university’s history. Frame the diploma, Mr. Greene, put it on your wall and be proud, for this is one of the great achievements of your life.
Now let me talk about what Greene said in the interview. He just said he was doing what he felt he had to do. He said he felt a “calling.”
You may associate the word “calling” with Christianity, but nothing could be more Jewish. In the Hebrew Bible, our prophets are called to do G-d’s will. Abraham, Moses, the prophets; they were all called by G-d.
Have you ever felt called?. It’s not dramatic; it’s not a Cecil B. DeMille voice calling you from Heaven. It’s a run-of-the-mill feeling: You just feel like you have to do something right then. There is no question. There is no discussion. You are compelled to do it. And after you’ve done the good deed, sometimes long after you’ve done it, you realize that you had been called. You don’t feel proud; in fact, like Ernest Greene, you feel humble, because it’s not like you decided to go do something. It wasn’t you; you were just G-d’s way of doing what needed to be done.
If you say that you have never been called, I bet you’re wrong. You’re just not open to what’s going through you.
Someone is calling but when He calls you, all He hears is busy signals.
Why is your line busy? What are you so busy doing?
We are good people. What are we so busy doing that we don’t get the Call?
I want to explain why I think good people don’t hear the call.
Do you know the term “good-enough parents?” There is a lot of literature about it but it basically means that you do not have to be a perfect parent, none of us are, but you should strive to be “good enough.” You should try to be attuned to your child; this means that you attempt to respond to his or her needs, especially emotional needs. To determine the “attuned” response, to be tuned in so we can hear what they are calling us to do, we must try to truly understand what’s going on with the child and what his or her needs or wants are.
When they call, do they just get busy signals? We are not perfect parents. Though we will often meet our children’s needs, we will sometimes frustrate them. If you can find the balance between supporting your child and giving your child the ability to grow even when it means getting hurt, this balance creates the essence of the “good enough parent.”
But it gets harder and harder with every passing year. And a lot of us wind up being just good enough, not really attuned, providing for their material needs but not providing love, not really attuned, and if we have more than one child we are attuned better to one than the other. That’s just unfortunately true in many cases. We’re tuned into some kids and with others, though we try hard, we just can’t seem to answer the call like they need us to.
The idea is that children do not need “perfect” parents. However, children do need parents who are good enough.
But is this idea true? Is a good-enough parent really good enough?
A lot of adults I talk to say no. They say things like:
“My mother was not good enough. She did all the things she was supposed to do, but she and I rarely if ever had the conversation about our feelings that I tried to have with her.”
“My father was from a generation that worked and then came home exhausted, ate dinner, read the paper and went to sleep. There was nothing left for me.”
I hear things like this all the time.
A good-enough parent was not good enough.
Now I want to apply the phrase “good enough” to all of us as people.
I know lots of people
Good enough people
They are doing everything they can to be good- enough parents and grandparents and spouses and children.
And there’s nothing left.
This is why G-d keeps getting a busy signal.
I hear it from families before funerals, in the most praising of tones:
“Her life was her family.”
“No, she was never part of anything. She wasn’t what you call a joiner.”
“All he cared about was giving us what we wanted, He never cared about himself.”
In a way, this is beautiful. She was a lovely, caring person who did all the right things for her family.
It’s a nice life.
But is it enough?
Is being a good-enough family person good enough for your life?
I want to ask this difficult question and I want to give you my controversial answer: I am saying NO.
I’m taking a tough, demanding position and saying that a good-enough parent, at least in my terms, is not good enough and a good-enough person is not good-enough.
I’m not talking about good people vs. bad people.
I’m talking to good people on the High Holidays and I am trying to explore what the meaning of a good person is.
We are called to be better than good enough.
So let me tell you a little story of something that happened to me recently. There is a program called Sar-El. Volunteers go to Israel for a couple of weeks at their own expense and work on an Israeli Army base doing whatever is asked of them, like stuffing duffel bags or painting or cleaning.
Two members of our congregants, Ed Berns and Mitch Beck, have done this six or seven times between them. I was always proud of them for doing this. They came to see me to talk about getting my support for having a meeting to encourage people to go. I heard myself saying that I would go. They were very surprised because they hadn’t asked me to go.
After our meeting, I wondered why in the world I did that. I show my support for Israel in many other ways; I lead groups there, etc. Do you think I want to stay at an army barracks? I’ll look dumb in an Israeli army uniform! Drab green is so not my color! I like to discuss the difference between four and five star hotels. I like to discuss the best restaurants in Jerusalem. Where did that come from?
And I realized afterwards that something in me, or Someone outside me, was telling me that my support of Israel has not been good enough. I didn’t know it when I said that I would go on this program, but I had felt a call.
And while I’m a little apprehensive about the sleeping arrangements and the menial work, as long as the political situation and my other responsibilities allow it, I’m going to do it. We are trying to get a group together to go in January, and if we don’t succeed now we’ll try again in the future. It’s not going to change the situation in the Middle East. I will not cast a giant shadow. But at least I will feel like I’m supporting Israel in this new way.
After all, I believe in Israel with all my heart. And I have done the easy stuff, traveling there, giving speeches; helping the economy by buying expensive gifts. All of the Israelis risk their lives every day for a dream that they have made into a reality. I get to do all the fun stuff at the risk of their lives. I can’t devote a week or two out of all the weeks of my life to the cause?
I’m talking about going with Sar-El as an example. No one would have faulted me for not going. Rabbis don’t do these things, right? We’re too busy saving the world by giving nice speeches.
I am trying to say to you: There is more that you can do. With the exception of those who are too sick or too busy caring for a sick loved one, we all can do more for others
I challenge you: I know you’re a good person. But is that good enough? What else can you be doing for others?
And while you should help others because that’s what truly good people do, the benefits for you can be incredible. Volunteering can involve stepping out of your normal routine and sometimes out of your social or cultural comfort zone. Depending on the organization, volunteering can provide you with the opportunities to do many things that will enrich your life.
You can exercise your moral courage if you join a group that fights against injustice or inequality in our society.
You can boost your brain fitness by becoming a tutor or reading aide.
And if you volunteer to help children, you will feel younger.
You can even improve your physical health if you walk or ride a bike to raise funds for a worthy cause.
And if you participate in helping a religious organization, you can deepen your spirituality and feel like you really are a part of the community and not just an observer.
On these High Holidays, we should examine our lives. So as you’re sitting here congratulating yourself on being a good person, ask yourself this question: I know I’m a good person. But am I good enough? The phone is ringing.