This year I read a wonderful book, a memoir, by Laura Schroff, called, An Invisible Thread. The book opens on the streets of New York City, on Labor Day, 1986. Laura is walking with big, purposeful strides, as she always does as a busy sales executive, when she hears a boy asking: "Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change?", and she walks right by.
She says she heard him, but didn't really hear him, he was just part of the noise of NY. But then, just a few yards past him, she stops. And then, even though she's not sure why, she turns around and goes back to him. When she does, she notices how young he is, how skinny he is, just angles and bones.
This time he says, "Excuse me lady, do you have any spare change? I'm hungry." And then, before she even knows what she's doing, instead of offering him a quarter, she says: "If you're hungry, I'll take you to McDonald's and buy you lunch." And then Laura asks if she might join him.
They had lunch together that day, and every Monday thereafter for the next 150 Mondays – more than 3 years. In time, Laura was packing Maurice lunch every day, helping him to resist the pandemic of drugs, and navigate a potential career. 25 years later, they are still bound together like family.
The book is about how the boy, Maurice, changed her life – added purpose and depth. Looking back, Laura says that she believes what pulled her back to Maurice that Labor Day, was a strong, unseen connection, she calls an invisible thread.
For Laura that one turn, changed her life immeasurably.
On these holidays, we are meant to reflect on the turns we need to make in our lives. The core of the Hebrew word "teshuva" is "shuv", which means turn. Change is hard, sometimes daunting, but usually it's that first turn that's the hardest.
As we approach Yom Kippur, our day of teshuva, our day of turning, there is great wisdom in the notion of making changes step by step, turn by turn. Too often people make resolutions that are so grand and daunting they are too big to keep. We can't go from being a couch potato to running a marathon. The same is true for personal growth. When we set goals that are unrealistic and unobtainable, the result is often worse than not setting any goal at all.
Those who have studied Righteous Gentiles during the Holocaust point out that they didn't wake up one morning magically transformed into righteous people. They eased into it, first responding to a friend or neighbor in need and only later helping strangers. They eased into their righteousness, one loving act at a time, one gesture, one turn.
The Rev. Martin Luther King once said: "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."
Wishing all of you a meaningful season of teshuva. May every step, every turn, be one which brings you closer to where you want to be and who you want to be.