What to do about the tiny pebbles in our shoes

What to do about the tiny pebbles in our shoes

Ruth Gafni is head of school at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford.

What is our first instinct when a tiny pebble or piece of grit finds its way into our socks or shoes?

Do we automatically let it derail us from, say, appreciating a morning walk, a majestic sunset, or an engaging conversation?

Grit can be interpreted in two ways: as an annoying “particle” that temporarily lodges itself in an uncomfortable place, or in the way we proactively respond to life’s daily nuisances. Both meanings serve as powerful metaphors for teaching our children about the psychological courage and emotional resolve they will need throughout their lives.

That being said, do we actually teach our children to shake out their proverbial socks or shoes and move on from the small stuff? Or do we instinctively focus too quickly on eradicating the small irritant instead of empowering them to redirect their attention on the more positive bigger picture?

How do we help our children de-emphasize normal frustrations at school or spats with siblings or friends, and instead encourage them to focus on the good, to notice and appreciate the beauty surrounding them, and reflect on daily positives?

The late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and essayist Mary Oliver captured the lyric simplicity of the everyday; her poetry reflected an appreciation of nature and the fleeting magic of life. Notable critics of her work aside, Ms. Oliver helped show us “the world just as it was, and in doing so made it seem entirely new.” She wrote these epic words in her poem, “The Summer Day:”

“Are we allowing ourselves to be dazzled, to cast aside the weight of facts…and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world? Do we stop to look at the sky, the sunshine, the green grass or a snow flake or raindrops on a branch of a tree?”

I fell in love with her poetry as a teenager, literally framing the words of the poem’s final sentence:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

This is why I routinely ask myself whether we — educators and parents — model and share enough with our students and community about the simple beauty of humanity and the world.

Do we take a moment to be fully present with the people with whom we spend much of our time, to respond to a smile or concern with empathy? And finally, are we doing enough to help perpetuate a sense of wonderment?

It’s important that we share with our children examples of our gratitude. After all, what we focus on becomes our story and then our children’s story. We read in the words of the Shema, “Veshinantam levanekha vedibarta bam, you should teach these words to your children and you shall speak them.”

It reinforces our imperative as Jewish educators and parents to transmit the unbroken chain of values and traditions to our children; we inherently know that the way we speak and react becomes a model for our children.

We also know that we embody the essence of hakarat hatov (gratitude) when we appreciate the beauty of the spoken and written word, of nature and science, and of rejoicing in the fundamental yet most profound things in life — a person’s smile; an encouraging word; love of family.

May we each continue to learn, teach, and model the importance of grit and gratitude for life’s daily blessings.

Ruth Gafni is head of school at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford.

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