HOW WE HANDLE ADVERSITY
A daughter complained to her father about her life and how things were so hard for her. She didn’t know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time because it seemed that as soon as one problem was solved a new one arose.
Her father, a chef, took her into his kitchen. There he filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In one he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs, and the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
The daughter sucked her teeth and impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out and placed it in a mug.
Turning to her he asked. “Darling, what do you see.”
“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
He brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she noticed that it was now hard-boiled. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee and she smiled as she tasted its rich flavor.
She was still curious as to what it was all about, so she asked. “What does this all mean?”
Her father explained that each of them had faced the same adversity, boiling water, but each reacted differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. But after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
The egg had been fragile and its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But after sitting through the boiling water, its insides became hardened.
The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you,” he asked his daughter. “You don’t get to decide whether or not adversity will knock on your door, it knocks on everyone’s. But when adversity does knock on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean? ”
Are you the carrot that seems hard, but with pain and adversity do you wilt and become soft and lose your strength?
Are you the egg, which starts off with a malleable heart? Were you a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a divorce, or a loss have you become hardened and stiff? Your shell looks the same, but are you bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and heart?
Or are you like the coffee bean? More importantly than how the bean is changed by the water, is how the bean changes the hot water, the thing that is bringing the pain to its peak flavor when it reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water gets the hottest, it just tastes better.
If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you too can get better and make things better around you.
Adversity comes to every one, but the quality of your life may depend in large measure on how you handle that adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?
I spent this week with the kids from our religious school in the Sukah at the synagogue talking with them about gratitude and how the fragile Sukah reminds us how fortunate we are to have food and shelter while millions in the world are still struggling with the basic needs of life every single day. The kids were an easy audience, because they are all too aware of the hunger, homelessness and poverty that afflicts so many in the world. They talked to me about the homeless people they see on the streets and how lucky they felt to have parents who loved them, siblings to fight with, food to eat, houses to live in and all the luxuries of life at their fingertips.
As I talked with all those kids this week, I thought of this story and the challenges that adversity brings. Because one thing I know for sure is that even in the midst of apparent plenty, in the midst of affluence, luxury and excess, suffering and loss and sorrow still exist for everyone. Even as they expressed their gratitude for the blessings that fill their lives, the also spoke of the pain of divorce, the loss of security they feel living in this world of terrorism and increasing nuclear weapons.
Even our affluent, often-spoiled KI kids have sorrow, loss and pain in their lives. Adversity strikes us all, and so I thought that perhaps the metaphor of the carrot, egg and coffee bean might be a helpful image even for them as they face the everyday challenges of their lives.
On Simhat Torah we celebrate the cycle of Jewish learning and study and Torah wisdom. We read the very end of Deuteronomy and start immediately again with the beginning of Genesis. It reminds us why the Talmud says in speaking of the Torah, “Turn it, turn it, turn it, for everything is in it.” It’s because there is wisdom in the Torah stories , myths and narratives that can still inspire us after more than 3,000 years to find the presence of God not only in our joys and celebrations, but even in our adversities as well.