Another Empty Chair


About a year ago—while watching President Obama’s State of the Union address—I stumbled upon an empty chair.  You probably noticed it, too.

My eyes welled up with tears; this was an involuntary response to genuine pain. It was as if I had literally stumbled on the chair and slammed my knee against its unyielding leg.

I am reminded today of another chair, which belonged to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Lovingly fashioned by one of his followers in 1808, this chair can now be found in the Breslov synagogue in Jerusalem.  According to part-history/part-legend, no one but the rabbi ever sat in this chair—even after his death— and his followers never appointed a new leader, because they believed that Rebbe Nachman’s spirit continued to guide and protect them.  During the 1920’s, when Jews of the Ukraine suffered persecution at the hands of the Cossacks, the chair was dismantled and stored for safekeeping. Jews fleeing Russia during WWII took the chair to Jerusalem, where it was later reassembled and restored to its original beauty.  The story of this chair’s journey was retold by Howard Schwartz, who skillfully rendered its mystical quality in just three pages.

Earlier this week, Gabrielle Giffords took an important step in her life’s journey, leaving an empty chair in the Congress once again. I am crying openly as I listen to her declare, “I’m getting better. Every day, my spirit is high.”  She carefully articulates each word; her steady voice reveals the strength and courage that has enabled her to reach this point in her recovery.

There will be a special election in Arizona and this empty chair will be filled by another representative. Perhaps, while her body does the “hard work” of healing, Giffords’ spirit will continue to guide and protect her former colleagues.

El na r’fah na lah.  God, please, heal her, please.

May she be restored to her original beauty.


Mercer’s Rule


People are fallible.  So it’s not surprising that when we organize ourselves into corporations we must devote entire departments to correcting our mistakes. I really like the new nomenclature of “customer care,” which brings to mind our responsibility to care about other people.

It seems that—along with being fallible—people are more inclined to complain when they feel neglected by customer care departments than they are likely to express appreciation for good service.  We not only fail to forgive the failures of others; we also fall short when it comes to celebrating their successes.

In an attempt to buck this particular trend, I would like to share the following news:

I recently received excelled customer care from Tyler at OtterBox and from Jason at AT&T. In both instances, these two people were patient and courteous, and they persevered until my issues were completely resolved.

I am especially eager to applaud AT&T, because when I first told people that we were installing Uverse at home I was warned by many that their customer service was atrocious. Naturally, when I found the opposite to be true I wondered why this was the case.  Is it because my expectations were so low?

Maybe it was because I make a concerted effort to be friendly and respectful to service industry workers.  I used to wait tables when I was younger and realized early on that the way to provide excellent service—and earn better tips—was to treat every “tough customer” with ruchmanes (mercy) rather than din (judgment).  Someone who is suffering, or just having a bad day, needs kindness and compassion.

Maybe I am just a striving Pollyanna, but I find that I am more satisfied with customer care when I focus my attention on the positive.  I am also more satisfied with my life, in general, when I seek to care for other people with compassion. Call it my Mercy Rule.

Of course, Johnny Mercer said it best and set it to a catchy tune.

I think I’ll call it Mercer’s Rule instead.


A Matter of Public Record


I am going to divulge something personal, not only because it’s already a matter of public record but also because I am ready for it not to matter anymore.

I was stalked.

Not on the Internet—this was many years ago, before Google & Facebook did the heavy lifting for stalkers—but at my workplace. Mine was a garden-variety stalker, who had apparently fixated on me after seeing my photo in the campus newspaper.  He was no longer matriculated at the university, and the campus police had made it clear that he was no longer welcome there.  This did not dissuade him from leaving the defaced photo taped to my office door one night.  I stopped biking to work and never walked around campus alone; I unlisted my telephone number; I took a course in self-defense.

I lived like this for a few months before obtaining a Temporary Restraining Order at the local courthouse.

After that, he left me alone. Alone with my newly-developed anxiety issues.

Several months later, my stalker was arrested for reckless driving when he crossed a median into oncoming traffic.  He told the police officer that he wanted to find out how it would feel to kill someone.

I still remember teetering on the precipice of a full-blown panic attack when a resourceful reporter from the city paper called me for a comment—at my unlisted telephone number.  The documents from my court hearing to obtain the TRO were a matter of public record.

From the distance of decades, I can tell you how this experience affected my outlook on privacy.  For many years I eschewed publicity, even after I moved cities and legally changed my name.  I preferred not to be photographed and was reticent when interviewed by journalists. I declined numerous invitations to appear on a local cable network.

Until 3 years ago.

Then my life became a matter of public record again.  I registered my domain name, began blogging and joined Facebook.  My book jacket includes a photograph.  My Twitter bio lists my location. The public record looks completely different now than it did 20+ years ago, and my digital footprint is indelibly stamped on its cached pages.

Still, I remain cautious. I am, perhaps, a little more anxious than my peers. I do not allow my Facebook friends to “check me in” to places and I have untagged myself in posts.  I moderate all comments on my blog. I experience a moment of uneasiness when I see my name on publicity materials for lectures and I am startled when I receive emails from strangers via my website.

I celebrate the technology that allows me to write and you to read this post.  I lament the technology that ensures my words will remain a matter of public record.