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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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‘Isn’t that special?’

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I mentioned to my friend Menachem that I always figured I would do something special with my life. He replied that everyone feels that way. I didn’t know if he was right, so I started asking around.

I relayed my conversation with Menachem to a 30ish Russian waitress at a local restaurant. I asked her if she had always felt she would do something singularly unique with her life. She said “yes” and, in fact, had already “done two special things. I have made two immigrations,” she added, in reference to her move from Russia to Israel and then to Canada.

I considered what her “special” meant. Initially, I thought “special” meant an action that was “big to the world.” The waitress challenged me on that definition, and I then understood what the philosopher Nietzsche said on the topic: “At bottom, every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this Earth, and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvellously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is ever be put together a second time.”

With the knowledge that “special” may never be seen by most of the world, I asked other people the same question: Here are some of the responses.  

“When I look at my children and grandchildren, I know that no matter how bad everything else was, how difficult the struggle was, I did something very special. There was purpose to my life. I guess I discovered the meaning of life and why I was put here.”

My niece, Devora, who lives in Efrat, Israel, stated: “I think the main problem is that people aren’t sure what is considered special. Is it special if you win awards? Is it special because it’s specifically something you can do, or is it special because it makes you or someone else feel good?”

Devora began her life on a very particular (career) road and a certainty she would make the difference she desired. Her path changed. Today, she is raising five children and said with glee: “They are my life. I love them dearly. Every time I listen to them talk about their day and guide them, or every time I hug and kiss them, I am doing something special.” She concluded: “I know every generation that comes after them and goes out into the world and does good, I had a part in. Now isn’t that special?”

I also discovered that “special” can be defined according to one’s background.  Here is another response: “I went to CHAT [Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto] and success was expected. It hurts to be a ‘failure’ in those terms. Also the burden of being the daughter of survivors [means] guilt also plays a role in making me feel like I have to accomplish something ‘special,’ noble, noteworthy.

 “Which is not to belittle the good things I have accomplished, the kindness I hopefully have shown to people, the love and guidance I give to my children.”

I think that special can be “big” and have a grand effect on the world, however, it can also be local, very quiet, and still play an equally important role in our existence. “Special” can be seen by the world or only by you.

Did you always figure you’d do something special?

“My great mistake, the fault for which I can’t forgive myself, is that one day I ceased my obstinate pursuit of my own individuality.” – Oscar Wilde


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