My request for readers to send their spiritually worthy New Year's resolutions to me brought in lovely thoughts.
Here was my favorite:
Q: My New Year's resolution is to try to remember to take my cloth reusable bags into Walmart and to take my own reusable container when I go out to eat. This takes some remembering. I remember my bags when going to the grocery store, but it took some time to really make it a habit. Now I rarely forget, but so far, I am not doing so well for Walmart and restaurants. I am going to keep them in the front seat of my car (since I forgot them today) and see if that keeps me more on track.
When my husband and I were in the Peace Corps many, many years ago, NO stores had bags in Belize (then British Honduras), and we managed just fine. Wouldn't it be fine if we could do that in this country now? — S from Wisconsin
A: I love your New Year's resolution, dear S, because it is so small. Let us leave the bringing of world peace to others who feel they have some impact in that realm. As for me, I see in your resolution the wisdom of Mother Teresa, who taught, "God has not called us to do great things. God has called us to do small things with great love."
You are ahead of me. My car is filled with plastic bags and that is usually where they remain when I go shopping. I only rarely remember, but I am doing better. I think I am embarrassed to show the store that I have shopped somewhere else. I come from the old, free paper and plastic bag world, and it is hard to adjust.
I have not yet brought my own doggie bag to a restaurant. I just don't know how to explain to my friends why I brought a Tupperware container to the movie so that I would have it when we went out for dinner after the film. It seems embarrassingly food-centric. I praise you for doing it, however. Bringing your own food container into a restaurant must have the effect on you that at least you are not going to eat all the food you have ordered. It does, however, lay you open to the checkmate move by your companions who can ask you, "Instead of bringing food home, why not just order less?" And then, of course, there is the problem of eating day-old leftovers. The only leftover food I can tolerate is cold pizza, and I usually eat all the pizza when it is hot.
So, let's consider some other small things we can do to fix small parts of our broken world.
There are my mother's old commandments, "Turn off the lights."
And "Don't let the water run."
Here are some other small things:
"Take the stairs up two flights and down three."
"Don't litter … ever."
"Purge your stuff regularly. If the thing you are looking at has not brought you joy, get rid of it (by donating to the poor)."
Also, have your kids purge their old toys so that you can habituate them to giving away things they really do not use and to prevent them from becoming hoarders.
"Give to beggars (see my previous column)."
"Spend a day with a relative you hardly ever see."
"Volunteer at a soup kitchen with your family."
"Become a puppy walker for your local guide dog for the blind foundation." They need volunteers to raise their future guide dogs for the first 12 months and then return the dogs for future training. (If the dog flunks out of guide dog school, you get to keep the dog as a pet.)
"Become a docent at a local museum." This not only helps the museum but improves your knowledge of some area of history.
"Go to a gym or just walk one hour a day." I have done this, and it has changed my body, means it has also lowered the government's cost of sustaining old Rabbi Gellman.
And, of course, "Don't pee in the pool."
There is one small thing I believe we can do that can also save the world, and that is …
Say something kind every day to a complete and utter stranger. Maybe it's just "Nice shoes," or maybe it is a smile and a nonphony, "Hi there." Maybe it is a thank you to the person who checked you out or the person who put your groceries in the bags (which you remembered to bring in from your car).
The point is that kindness is real and small and contagious. May we all do some really small and really loving things this year.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.