So there I was, minding my own business in the start-up hub right next to my house, where I go to do all things internet-related, when this super-stressed business man suddenly showed up, and started politely demanding that I move seat.
He had a big skype call to make in a minute…blah blah blah.
He just HAD to sit in the place I was sitting…blah blah blah.
If was the only place with a neutral backdrop for his call…blah blah blah.
I could move back there when he was done…blah blah blah.
In his polite, bullying way he managed to bully me out of my chair, and to get me to move while he then made one of the most tedious, long-winded and loud Skype calls in the history of mankind (when I left 3 hours later, he was still going.)
I have to say, the whole incident left me fuming.
The more time elapsed, the more angry I got at him. I mean, who did he think he was? Why was his skype call automatically more important than me, and what I was working on? Why didn’t I stand up to him, and tell him to get stuffed (in a polite, British way, natch)?
That last question really held the key to it all, as when I went to talk to God about it the next day, I could see that the bullying businessman had managed to press on some very old buttons about being able to stand up for myself, and defend myself.
Until I did my hitbodedut (personal prayer), I’d forgotten that I was routinely bullied in school for years. When I was asking God to show me why this whole incident seemed to have gotten under my skin in such an extreme way, He brought up a memory from my second day of high school.
My old non-Jewish high school in the UK was the epitome of goyish snobbery: it had a swimming pool; it had its own coat of arms; it was 450 years’ old; it had such a strict uniform that even your underwear had to conform to the rules, or else you were asking for big trouble.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I can’t stand uniforms. The one caveat in the school uniform code was that for some strange reason, you could wear white or red socks, as red was the official school colour and therefore, blessed and holy.
I only had two pairs of official school socks (white and red, as per the uniform list). I wore the white pair the first day, and the second day, I showed up to school with the red pair, completely oblivious to the fact that you didn’t actually do those kind of things.
That lunchtime, I was sitting on a bench by the playing field, minding my own business, when a gang of second year girls suddenly showed up out of nowhere, and started picking on me.
“Don’t you know that only prostitutes wear red?” one of them asked me (I was 11 and she was 12. It just goes to show you the moral level of non-Jewish society 30 years’ ago in London, doesn’t it.)
I wasn’t entirely clear what she was talking about, but I knew one thing for sure: I was being bullied.
I ran away crying, and that was the first and last time I wore those red socks to school.
Now, as the grown up me, I know that God is in the world, and that God arranged the whole thing.
But I think it was only this morning that I started to get a glimmer of an idea why. Red attracts a lot of attention, clearly bad attention. Even though I was completely naïve and clueless, God was ensuring that I wasn’t going to be wearing those red socks again – and it was an act of love, albeit I didn’t realize that at the time, anything but.
Strangely, as soon as I went back to the socks episode in school, my huge animosity towards the bullying businessman also kind of disappeared. I think God just sent him so that I’d go and rescue that 11 year old self from thinking God was bad, for sending me more bullies on the second day of my new school.
I now see that the guy has huge issues, and is a nebuch (sad case). If he asks me to move again, I’ll appreciate I’m dealing with someone with enormous emotional issues, and I’ll move happily because, hey, thank God I’m not him.
For a few hours there, I was questioning God’s goodness a little again, as to why he had to send me another bully, at the age of 41. After hitbodedut, nearly all my issues have dissolved, and I have a lot more clarity and peace of mind.
But without personal prayer? I had at least 10 different strategies planned out in my head for how to let the bullying businessman have it, next time round.
That guy has no idea what a debt of eternal gratitude he owes to Rebbe Nachman.