Nessa Liben is a Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar alumnus, FEREP Scholar alumnus, and recent graduate of the NYU Dual Degree program in Nonprofit Management and Judaic Studies. She can be reached at Nessa.Liben@gmail.com
On purim night, I joined a dozen octogenarians for a conveniently located megilla reading at my neighbors’ apartment across the hall. My neighbors have been married for almost 50 years, during which they have experienced both the joys of every day life as well as more than their fair share of pain, including a recent stroke the husband has suffered. As the husband sat that night in his wheelchair, he was having trouble turning the pages of the megilla. His wife sat next to him and she positioned and repositioned his hands and the book with every page turn. I tried to imagine myself in that situation, reliant and then frustrated by my reliance on another’s help. Perhaps I’d push away whoever was assisting me, in a desperate attempt to preserve my own dignity. However, that night, each time the wife leaned over her husband, I noticed him whisper an almost audible “thank you” to her. After 50 years of marriage, this man still felt the importance of thanking his wife for every move she made to assist him.
As I watched this couple in that instance, I realized that every difficult moment can be looked at as an opportunity for promoting dignity – as this wife did for her husband and as he did in turn for her. I believe that the small gestures that dignify your family, friends, colleagues, constituents, and students, as well as strangers who you meet along the journey of life, are what make us beings who reflect the divine. And when those who need assistance look into our eyes, they will hopefully see their own dignity reflected in ours, and then that dignity can continue to ripple forward into our world that so desperately needs a helping hand.