From Tim - a friend of mine writes for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle - his stories are always right on task. This story offers hope and also the age old lesson about 'it is not your circumstances that determine your attitude but instead how you react to them'. Read on...
On being a farschtinker
When I was in sixth grade, Mr. Boelter introduced our unit on WWII by saying we had to interview a veteran and write a paper about it. I knew I’d interview my Grandpa Charlie, but the due date was weeks away, so I procrastinated.
As we learned about Pearl Harbor, the expanding Japanese Empire and the battle of Guadalcanal, I imagined a young version of Charles Tenenbaum scrambling through an island jungle, his lone M1 Garand ablaze against thousands of Hirohito’s soldiers, while Kamikaze planes came crashing through the canopy.
OK, so I watched a lot of TV as a kid. But the more I learned, the more excited I got about hearing my Grandpa Charlie’s story.
When I called him at his home in New York, his voice came over the phone bellowing and deep like a tuba. I could tell he’d lost his hearing aid again, and with the handset an arm’s length from my ear, I hollered my questions.
His answers, though loud, weren’t as exciting as I’d hoped. He worked radio intelligence in the European Theater, erecting a couple radio antennas and digging miles of WWI-style trenches that would have been useless against German tanks.
He and his company were stationed well away from the front lines, so he didn’t do much fighting. But the world was at war, and tensions were high.
Rumors of snipers rendered every tree, thicket and hedge ominous and suspect. Radio reports told of German planes strafing Allied forces behind the lines. All the men were getting pretty nervous, wondering when that one bullet would come to strike them down.
The anxiety grew, and as winter came, their supplies were dwindling. They repeatedly called for a drop, but got no response. And on one bitterly cold day, as the first snow began to fall, an unmarked plane came in low and banked to make another pass. The soldiers went wide-eyed with terror. They started shooting, blowing holes in the wings and the fuselage, but it wasn’t enough to bring the plane down.
The pilot pulled up and flew back the way he’d come. And that’s when they realized it had been their supply plane. They went two more days without food, and worse, they’d nearly killed one of their own.
“Listen, Sasha Pasha. You can’t worry about things you have no control over. Beshert is beshert. It’s fate. Reality. You worry and you end up acting like a real farschtinker,” he said. “We were a bunch of farschtinkers to shoot like that, do you understand?”
My Yiddish wasn’t so good, so he explained that worry doesn’t change reality. It just works to cloud our judgment, making matters worse.
That lesson made a lion out of Grandpa Charlie when the war was over. His business decisions were intelligent, calculated and fearless. He opened restaurants and hotels, and eventually bought up a number of apartment buildings around New York City.
As for me, I’m not a lion like my grandfather. At least not yet. Worry just about swallowed me whole, recently. Simultaneous paycuts for both my wife and I left a gnawing dread about finances. And just like Grandpa Charlie prophesied, I became a real farschtinker.
I acted more like a cornered animal than a lion -- lashing out, making reactionary decisions and essentially shooting the supply plane.
But then something happened. I wish I could say that the circumstances changed, or that life quit slapping me around, but that wasn’t the case. I just couldn’t do the anxiety thing anymore, so I let go. It felt like every bone in my body that was willing me to worry finally, thankfully snapped.
So I decided to try something new for me, called persevering. I just went about my business, and every day that the axe didn’t fall, I started to feel really grateful. I started to celebrate. And that caused this other thing to well up in me: hope.
Hope hasn’t begun to fix the holes I shot in everything, but at least the shooting, the reactionary decision-making, has stopped. And without trying to jinx it, I think I may even be making the sorts of cool-headed, rational judgments that made Grandpa Charlie successful.
But I’m not a lion yet; I’m in process. Perhaps you are too.
And today, if you’re worrying about something you can’t control, and you’re getting ready to make a reactionary decision, just remember there was once an old Jewish man with a voice like a tuba, who would have happily called you a farschtinker.