A Little Finger Can Teach a Big Lesson

These moments, when we find ourselves in situations to which we are not accustomed, are opportunities for gratitude and resilience

For those keeping track, you may have noticed that I missed last month’s turn on the Rabbis Without Borders blog. (I’ll forgive you if you didn’t notice.) The reason was the lack of use of my right pinky, which made typing not impossible, but difficult and uncomfortable.

My finger was in a splint, a necessary mechanism to keep my finger straight so as not to disturb the stitches that were put in the day before the blog post was due. I wish it was a more exciting story, but I sliced open my finger doing the dishes. (Or as someone said, the dishes did me.) And while I’ll assume you think it was a butcher knife or something, it was a chipped coffee cup that did me in. I was hand-washing a coffee cup that had a chipped rim, and it caught me at the bottom of by pinky facing my ring finger.

It happened on Memorial Day in the late afternoon/evening, and the urgent care was closed. Since the bleeding had stopped, we decided against the emergency room. I bandaged it up, went out to teach my adult education class, and went to urgent care the next morning, where they promptly told me I should have gone to the emergency room the night before. No matter, they were able to stitch it up, and I left with five stitches and the splint. A week and a half later the stitches came out and a month later I’m pretty much all healed, albeit with a nice scar for posterity.

Now this is not just a long excuse for missing a blog post, and it is possible to use this incident to reflect deeply on the health care system in this country, a debate that is at the forefront of the news today, and how that affected our decision to forgo the ER and wait for urgent care, a minor decision compared to many others who, for financial reasons, need to make choices about when and how to seek out medical care. But that is for another time.

No, I’ll simply say that these moments, when we find ourselves in situations to which we are not accustomed, are opportunities for gratitude and resilience. They teach us to be grateful for what we do have, rather than what we don’t, and they teach us that we have a tremendous capacity to deal with changed circumstances if we are willing to make accommodations and find a new way of doing things.

Of course, these are hard lessons to learn. The Israelites in the Torah portion this week, Chukat, once again complain to Moses about the hardships in the desert as they continue to journey towards the Promised Land. It’s a familiar trope in the Torah, one that is repeated in various forms throughout the text. But while we can imagine the needs—food and water—are real, the Israelites are always expressing their needs in the context of wanting to return to Egypt because there they had plenty of food and water (neglecting to mention that there they were enslaved).

The Israelites were unable to have gratitude for the freedom they did have and rather focused on the material goods they used to have. Their idealization of the past betrayed an inability to imagine a different future and deal with their changed circumstance.

An injured finger might not compare in scale. But when I lost the use of it for a short period of time, I realized how much it changed how I needed to do things. It was another reminder that life challenges us constantly in ways large and small, and we need to face these challenges with humility and strength.

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