“SMILE” It was a tiny little sign, hand written and taped on the glove compartment of a car parked next to mine at Indian River Medical Center. What a simple powerful message! As I collected my stuff from my hospital visit and meetings, it was just the reminder I needed to as I got into my car to go off for the rest of my busy day.
This was not the first personal message, placed by someone in a public space that caught my attention in the last few weeks. At a committee meeting, one of the participants brought a guest book that people who had been visiting the place our group was responsible for signed with their names and messages. They read some of the messages, giving us a sense of why people were coming to this place and what they had on their minds at the time. The words left behind were a real challenge to the selfishness, materialism, and impatience that so easily plague many of us.
These types of messages and reminders are common place and vital.
I offer you four different ways to intentionally plant these nuggets of wisdom for ourselves or for those who may cross our path.
1) Bumper sticker – this is a public declaration. Don’t limit yourself specifically to actual bumper stickers. There are all kinds of places (like the one in the car parked next to mine at the hospital) where we can put a message for ourselves or others.
2) Morning mirror – like the bumper sticker this is a message/word/wisdom that you place in a conspicuous place. The difference is that this is only for your consumption. This is a reminder that you see at some point in the course of your daily routine to help you tune into your best self.
3) Fortune cookie: This act of messaging is a little more playful. In the book Jacob the Baker by Noah benShea, Jacob, the main character, works in a bakery. In breaks from his baking duties, scribbles notes of wisdom on small pieces of paper. One morning, while making challah (the special bread for the Sabbath) his notes, properly sanitized of course, fall into the dough. Over the course of the next week, countless people stop Jacob to discuss the pieces of theology and wisdom that they discovered hiding in their loaves of bread. I am not advocating hiding messages in foodstuffs, but there are plenty of ways that we can set these messages into unexpected places to be revealed in their own time.
4) Western/Wailing Wall: Many of you may be familiar with this practice from Jerusalem. The Western or Wailing Wall is a piece of the retaining wall from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. From the time the Temple was destroyed (70 of the Christian Era), Jewish (and non Jewish) pilgrims have stopped to place notes in between the stones. These were messages directed to God, left in a place where from so many generations people had gathered to connect with the divine. Even if we don’t visit Jerusalem, there are going to be times that we need to write down a message or prayer, something to get off our chest or out of our mind, that we need to leave/give to God.
This can be a challenge for us as well. First, what are the nuggets of wisdom, perspective or insight that we would want to place in the world? We have to think about who would need to see it, where we would post it and how would we propagate it. Finally, these messages lose impact when we absorb their presence into our view of the world. They “tarnish” with age. We have to be conscious of them and take time to rotate and expand their presence. May we each write messages and find pieces of wisdom that inspire and focus us on a path of meaning, hope, and faith.
Rabbi Michael Birnholz
Temple Beth Shalom, Vero Beach, Florida