In the movies — and even many good books — a character often changes dramatically in an instant. He figures out the terrorists’ plot, decides all of a sudden to undertake the quest he had long refused or realizes that he really loves the nicer girl and that he had long been deceived by the seductive charms of the blonde bombshell. My favorite such transformation is in My Fair Lady where Audrey Hepburn‘s Eliza Doolittle finally becomes able to speak proper English after Rex Harrison‘s Henry Higgins, recognizing the enormity of her task as well as its merits and recognizing as well her suffering, shows her a little kindness and offers her encouragement:
I know your head aches. I know you’re tired. I know your nerves are as raw as meat in a butcher’s window.
Think what you’re trying to accomplish. Think what you’re dealing with — the majesty and grandeur of the English language; it’s the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative and musical mixtures of sounds. And that’s what you set yourself out to conquer, Eliza, and conquer it you will.
Sometimes in life, such moments of kindness and encouragement push us to effect some transformation in our lives. Other times, it is moments of difficulty or strangeness.
More often than not, however, the change we experience is not as abrupt as Eliza’s. We don’t go, in one instant, from speaking a dialect to, in the next, speaking the King’s English. I can only think of a handful of occasions where I have made such abrupt changes. Once, involved in a strange relationship, I saw how he had been deceiving me (and how I had been deceiving myself about him) and quickly shifted my attitude, standing up to his pleas to give it another try. (To be sure, even in this case, I had considered extricating myself from the situation long before the “moment” arrived.)
This week, it seems I experienced another such moment of change. So profound was it that within hours, I had moved from doubt and despair to resolution. Last night, I went to shul (synagogue) for the first time in nearly a year.
The change struck me as significant and helped restore my faith, given when it occurred. This is the Jewish month of Ellul, the month when we are supposed to be preparing for the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We should use this time to reflect, looking back on the previous year, considering our faults and resolving to improve ourselves in the coming year. (Over at KesherTalk, Judith Weiss is doing a series of posts on this sacred time. Check them out!)
The things that experienced this week, while sometimes painful, caused me to look back on some of my attitudes and behavior in the previous year. And I realized how, in some cases, I was not living up to my own aspirations. Yet, it wasn’t until just after an unusual happening Thursday where I found within myself the resources to set things right. Within moments of my (to borrow a term from Christian theology) epiphany*, I was already taking action to correct my past behavior.
What struck me more than anything is that while I knew I needed to change, it was something that happened that night which helped me find the resolve to start that change. That it occurred at this sacred time of the year reminds me of my faith and makes me believe ever more in God. And I pray that others of you will find a similar resolve in your faith at a time of year that is sacred to you.
More often than not in life, we change very slowly. But, sometimes, it happens in instant. Would it that we experience it like Audrey Hepburn, through the kind and encouraging words of an apparently gruff and inconsiderate mentor. It is not only kindness which effects change. And sometimes, it is difficult or unusual experiences which help us to realize our better selves.
Life is not always like a movie, but sometimes when it is, it can surprise us, overwhelm and even cause us to turn away from a path which was not ours to tread. And toward one where we might better find ourselves.
–B. Daniel Blatt
*I’m not entirely sure “epiphany” is the right word.