Why Are You Complaining?

“Elad, why are you complaining?”

That’s my wife.  She’s talking to me right now, and she’s a bit upset.

“But… you left some dirty dishes over here .  I thought we agreed…”

“Elad, why are you complaining?”

And I keep telling her, and keep trying to explain.  And she keeps looking at me and asking the same question.

“Elad, why are you complaining?”

Finally, I look at her and I don’t have any energy anymore.  It’s just her, me, and the dishes.  Staring.

She takes a breath, waits for me to interrupt, but I don’t know what to say anymore.

“Okay,” she says, “How about this.  Did you notice how clean the floors are?  Did you notice how clean the table is?  Did you notice that the bathroom is spotless?”

I look around.  It’s as if it’s the first time I’m seeing where I’m standing.  It’s true.  The room is so clean, it’s almost pristine.  I walk over to the bathroom.  It smells like that stuff you clean bathrooms with.  I walk into the kitchen.  Most of the dishes are cleaned, scrubbed, put away.  Except for those few dishes.

And now I’m standing here feeling like an idiot.  Now I understand her question: why was I complaining?  I almost can’t remember.

Ah, yes, the dishes.  The few dirty dishes.

I look over at them again.  They have dry crust on them.  They look kind of gross and disgusting.  Ugh.  Yuck.

But then I remind myself to look at everything else.  And suddenly, the dishes are lost, almost forgotten.

Why was it so easy to focus on the dishes?  Why were they all I cared about?  How did I not realize how beautiful the home was?

And worst of all, why do I relive this experience so often?  Why do I put my wife through this so regularly?

I wondered this for a while.  Because it seems like something I do almost too predictably.  I’m lost, staring at the one ugly thing in the room, judging it.  Upset by it.

Then my wife told me something one day that changed everything.

She told me about a book she was studying about gratitude.  A book about gratitude for G-d.  For our lives.  All about how one of the keys to life is to be grateful for all that we’re given.

She told me how some of us, we have this tendency to only notice the ugliness in the world.  We tend to only see what’s wrong with our lives, with the people around us, with our jobs, with everything.

And then she said what changed everything for me: she said that it reminded her of the converstaions we have about the dishes.

She said that the dishes are just an example of how life can be so easy to throw away.  She said that when we have so many amazing things happening around us, it can be so easy to ignore when there’s one thing wrong.

Why? I asked.  Why?  Why do we do this?

Because in that moment, I knew it was true.  I knew that I’ve complained so much in my life.  Complained when we were poor in Israel.  Complained when things weren’t just right in Crown Heights.  Complained about religious Jews, complained about everyone but religious Jews, complained about… everything.

She looked at me with this smile that was simultaneously saying “Gotcha! How dare you criticize my dishes!” but also full of sympathy.

And she said: “Think about it.  When everything is so good, the dirty things stand out more.  Dirty dishes stand out in a clean room.  Bad things stand out in a good life.  Dirt stands out in a place that is clean.”

It was so true.  I noticed her dirty dishes because everything else was so clean.  I would come in, and because everything was in order, I couldn’t help but focus on the one thing that didn’t fit.

Well, of course, I could help it.  I can help it.

It’s all about expanding my consciousness.  Expanded it so that it didn’t just focus on what stood out, but on what was really happening.  Expanding it so that even when I see something dirty, I can look beyond it and around to everything else.

That’s the true definition of open-mindedness.

Imagine if all of us did this.  Imagine if we expanded our minds so much that when things are going badly in our lives, we see all the miracles that are happening at every moment.

Imagine if we noticed the fact that we are healthy every day.  Noticed that we are alive, that if you have enough money to be able to read this on a computer, then things probably aren’t too bad for you.  Imagine if we remembered that thing our parents always told us: “There are kids starving in Africa, and you’re complaining about eating brussel sprouts?!”

Imagine if we really remembered that.  Because it’s true, for G-d’s sake.  There are kids starving, and you don’t have to look as far as Africa to find them.  There are people who are dying right now, sick in hospitals.  People in jails.  People suffering.

And we’re complaining about one dirty dish.

Imagine if we really understood all that.  Imagine if our minds really expanded that much.

I think we couldn’t help but walk around grateful.  Walk around thanking G-d every day for being so kind to us.

When my mind expands past my own little worries when I get home, and I take a second, stop myself, and look around, and see a room that is beautiful, that is pristine in so many ways.  When I realize my wife is 9 months pregnant, about to pop, all while watching a gorgeous 2 year old who has a fondness for throwing her lunch on the floor…. when I realize that despite all that, the room is beautiful, that the home feels like a home, that my life is so wonderful, that I am so lucky….

Oh, G-d, I want to cry.  I want to get on my knees and thank my wife for working so hard, for being so wonderful.

In other words, when I see my apartment for what it really is, suddenly the dirty dishes don’t exist.  Or they do, but they’re nullified to the beauty all around me.

What if we treated G-d like that?  What if we saw our lives like that?  If we noticed the beauty, the luck, the amount of good that is thrown at us with abundance…

We could walk around with a smile all day.  We could handle difficulties with a grin.  Because we know that we are so lucky it’s almost impossible to comprehend.

Could you imagine such a thing?  Could you live such a reality?  Oh, I wish I could.  I’m trying.

Until then, I guess I’ll have to keep asking myself the question my wife said so perfectly: “Elad, why are you complaining?”

  • Malka Hellinger Forshner

    very nice…….and what’s the name of the book on gratitude that your wife has been learning? That’s the missing part of this otherwise awesome post…….

    • Haha, good point. It’s called “Garden of Gratitude” by Shalom Arush. I’ll edit the post to link to its Amazon page.

  • Malka Hellinger Forshner

    I’ve got “Garden of Eden” “Garden of Peace” and “Garden of Emunah” — well, there’s a bit of space left on my seforim shelves…..in the “gardening” section…..

  • Anonymous

    The greater capacity to see the ugliness and dirt that He gives you, the greater the strength and ability He gives you to broaden your horizons and find the beauty.

  • Rebecca K.

    You have good timing. I need this message today. Thanks to you and your wife!

    (Although I’m still going to go wash my dishes right now. 🙂 )

  • Rivki Silver

    Your wife is a wise woman! I also tend to focus on what’s not right, and it’s brilliant to note that we can only do that because so much is going right. Oh my gosh. Brilliant.

    • Yes, now I actually have to implement it! The hard part.

  • Mordechai Bogatin

    Elad,

    Don’t loose sense of reality. Dirty dishes bother you, Don’t let thoughts of ” we should be thankful for what we have etc…” If that was the case you could live in a tent in Bryant park and be thankful for the sky and the air. – We were put on this earth to strive for something better. Not having dirty dishes left out is one of those things, especially if all your life you never experienced this and then you get married and your wife leaves them out.

    I think – better to have a bathroom and kitchen which is not perfectly spotless than dirty dishes left out. This just calls for mice on your table when your sleeping.

    There needs to be a sense of priority – dirty dishes should not be left out ! If they are, then putting them into the sink takes priority over spotless bathrooms and floors.

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