I told myself not to look over. Don’t turn your head! Don’t do it!
The rabbi was seated next to me in the audience at a recent lecture. He needed a pen, and I lent him one. Now, as the lecture was wrapping up, I could tell the rabbi was getting ready to bolt. I could also tell, using my superior intuitive powers, that he likely forgot that he had borrowed my pen.
Would he make off with it?
Simple non-verbal communication, of course, could provide the answer. A quick turn of the head, would allow me to get a visual read on my pen – was he holding it out for me, or stuffing it into his pocket? He would see my silent gesture, and respond in kind: Raised eyebrows (oh! I’m sorry, I forgot. Here you go.) or a wink (one step ahead of you.) would tell me all I’d need to know.
Either way, I’d get my pen back and everything would be cool. So why was my brain telling my neck to play dead?
Don’t turn your head!
I have recently made peace with the idea of seeing a doctor who is my age, and I long ago accepted that I could hire a lawyer whom I’m old enough to have babysat. But I can’t get comfortable with the idea of having a rabbi as a peer.
My whole life, rabbis were always older than my parents – even when
they weren’t. They were wise, never goofy or surprising. And they all
talked in that same uniquely rabbinic cadence: Introducing thoughts
through questions, with the emphasis always on the interrogative and
the last word of the sentence (So, WHY are we afraid to let the rabbi
see us looking at our PEN?).
Other cultures believe their clergy to be uniquely chosen by God, with
some special, divine powers. Ours says any schlub who wants the job,
can have it. Still, I have always conferred a kind of superiority on
rabbis. In my heart of hearts, I know they’re just people, but they’re
people who have dedicated themselves to the study of Torah, so they’re
automatically deserving of my respect – or at the very least, my
So when the rabbi (who I think is a few years younger than me) was
about to pilfer my pen, my first thought was, “Let it go. He’s a rabbi.”
My second thought was, “That’s a really good pen.”
Uni-Ball Grip. Four bucks for a pack of two. Makes my handwriting look
positively sophisticated. Maybe I could just lean forward a bit, and
see if that would make him take notice of me – thus inspiring the
thought, “Oh, I’d better give back this pen.”
I had no option, then, but to either say goodbye to the pen or act like
a grownup, and face an only-slightly-awkward social situation involving
a Person Of Authority. I thought it over, imagining the kind of woman I
want my son to know me as. I considered the fact that I have seen this
rabbi give voice to a puppet on numerous occasions; I mustered my
resolve, and I made my choice: Goodbye, pen.
But then something happened. Without thinking about it. Without meaning
to, I turned my head! It was as if a little involuntary voice in my
brain kicked a message to my neck, saying, “Hey, moron. He’s a
rabbi, not George Clooney. Get the pen back.”
The rabbi laughed, when he saw my eyes light on the Uni-Ball – he had
used the metal clasp to clip his notes together, a sure sign of
premeditated pen-napping. He handed it back to me.
“WERE you worried I was going to steal IT?” he asked.
There was no hiding it anymore. Against my better nature, I had broken
down one of my last little mental blocks and treated the rabbi as a
peer. A rabbi is a person? Now, I know I’m a grownup.
“Yeah,” I laughed, taking it back. “I did.”