They Always Come Back

At The One School’s graduation ceremony, I gave a message to the parents, which upon further reflection I find to be relevant in helping us strengthen our important relationships. 

In one of his short stories, Leo Tolstoy tells of an emperor who embarked on a journey to find a new philosophy to guide his own personal life in his pursuit of becoming an effective and benevolent ruler. At the end of his process, the emperor narrowed the solution to three questions:

1.    When is the most important time?

2.    What is the most important thing to do?

3.    Who is the most important person in your life?

The answers to the first two questions are quite predictable—NOW is the most important time and BEING KIND is the most important thing to do. The answer to the to the third question is more interesting—I’ll get back to it. 

Gali and I were preparing ourselves for the first Passover Seder without having the whole family together, as our daughter Maya is away at college. Maya called me that morning to wish me a Happy Passover and to tell me she will be celebrating at the Hillel. Only that wasn’t her real plan; five minutes before the Seder she showed up at Temple. We were, obviously, thrilled. When we said goodbye the next morning (too short a visit, but better than none at all), she told us how she never really appreciated the amount of love she gets from us and the whole community, and how important she is to so many people. 

I read about an Australian mother whose six-year-old son became very angry one day and told her “Mother, I don’t love you anymore and I’m leaving the house”. “Okay my darling,” said the mother, “Let me help you with the packing”. They went to his room and she helped him pack all the essentials: his teddy bear, his lucky pants, and his Superman costume. Then she went to the kitchen to make his favorite sandwiches so he will not go hungry when he is away. At the door, the little boy was holding his little suitcase in one hand and a brown bag with the sandwiches in the other. As he started walking down the short pathway, his mother said “Goodbye darling, don’t forget to keep in touch”. The boy opened the gate, turned left and disappeared into his new future. Less than two minutes later, he ran back home, straight into his mother’s open arms who was still standing by the door. She later explained, “I knew that nobody ever leaves a loving home. They always come back.”

How do we create a loving home? The answer to Tolstoy’s third question, “Who is the most important person in your life?” is THE PERSON WITH WHOM YOU ARE RIGHT NOW. You probably remember times when you talked to a professor or supervisor and they were outwardly there, but inwardly somewhere else. They were just waiting for this conversation to end so they could move on to the next person. Luckily, we also have other people in our lives who, whenever we are with them, make us feel that we are the most important person. There is nothing in the world they want to do other than be with us. 

Children don’t need our company so much. They enjoy being by themselves, daydreaming, playing with their toys, reading books, and yes, staring at their screens. But when they must tell us something important or have an urgent question (which all of them are), they must feel that at that moment that they are the most important person in our life. No texting, no checking Facebook, no looking at them with one eye as the other is kept on the TV while we mumble, “Great job, honey, beautiful, keep playing”. You don’t fool them—they get it. But when we give them the proper attention reserved for the most important person, they would never leave (even when they live far away) because “Nobody ever leaves a place when they feel loved.”