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Meeting disappointments head on

Updated: May 16, 2022

I'd started with a bag full of marbles and ended with two. I kicked my feet against the wall, shifting my last two glass pebbles from one hand to the other. I glowered at the kids swinging bags of treasure they'd won.

Once again my cheerfulness was shattered. My high hopes were dashed. I thought of all the other disappointments I'd suffered the same day.

The teacher complimented each child as she returned the assignment, which was an essay about our vision of the future of the world. I was sure I'd written a brilliant piece; In the future people wouldn't live in overcrowded cities on land but in the spacious areas under the oceans.

With an expression of pity in her eyes, a shrug, and a sigh she returned my paper.

Valerie, the cleverest person in the class, received all the praise. I wished that I was like her.

Filled with these melancholy thoughts I ambled, counting off my weaknesses, kicking stones as I walked, to Heder, the afternoon Hebrew school, Jewish children attended, learning Bible and reading the prayer book; cricket, no, soccer, no, arithmetic, no writing, no. My conclusion; I didn't have any talents, like the kind other children had.

The only time I received attention was when I'd done something wrong, forgotten to bring my reader, talked in class, hadn't prepared my reading, and so on. The Rabbi, a kind and soft-spoken grumbled "what will become of you?"

More gloom lay in store for me in the playground, a dusty piece of red earth, between the classroom and the communal hall, where we played, while waiting for our class to begin.

The game of the day was marbles. On other days we played a game called kenneky, where one bent over to focus through one's spread legs at a distant target and scraped a short round dowl out of a groove in the ground using another, longer round dowl so that the smaller one flew into the air. The winner was the one who scraped the dowl furthest. My friend Percy scraped the thing through the glass in the Star of David at the top of the gabled roof of the synagogue. I couldn't scrape it a few meters from the groove.

Sorrel Waks, a scrawny little kid, always on the lookout for a bit of mischief, came up to me. We'd often bunked class together to take in a movie, sitting in the back row, puffing cigarettes..I'll smash them down his throat, I thought to myself when his white teeth grinned at me as he slapped me on the back and said, "don't take things so hard old chap".

I glanced up at him and lashed out, leaving knuckle marks on his smirking face. My pent-up anger had found a target. He hit back and all the children came round shouting "fight, fight". He was smaller than me and I had his throat squeezed between my hands. His face was turning bright red. The kids pulled me off, pushed me aside, and scowled at me for being a bully.

This annoyed me still further and now I was out of control and I was capable of any crazy thing. A little fox terrier, running around us caught my attention. I hadn't managed to be victorious against the kids, I turned my violence on a little spotty and slapped the creature through the snout.

I had smashed things I loved; my friendship with Sorrel and my affection for animals. I wallowed in self-pity, sure of everyone's revulsion.

Rev. Wolk, our white-haired teacher, called us into class. I dusted off my clothes, put on a proud countenance, and went to face my next disgrace. An insensitive monster, soon to be revealed for being the criminal he was and to be crucified like Jesus on the cross.

Each week in those days the kids were crazy about different things, a weekly craze., collecting marbles one day. and motor car pictures on another. A kid earned the admiration of his friends, by having a rare card of a rare vehicle, or one of a famous sportsman. These items were available at the OK Bazaars, a department store in a beautiful three-story white Art Deco style building, which happened to be on my route to Hebrew School.

They were sold in things called lucky packets. These also contained sweets, but we purchased them for the cards. Each day I stopped to browse the entrancing objects on sale. Riding the escalators, on my way to acquire the object capable of transforming me from a useless, no-good runt into an important person.

Once, collecting autographs was a new rage. I saved up for two weeks and stepped into the OK Bazaars, on my way to Hebrew School, and bought a beautiful autograph book, with pink, red, and blue pages in an embossed brown artificial leather cover. "check this out"I ordered the kids, sure their jaws would drop open at the sight of signatures of famous people. Their cantankerous laughter made me isolated as a freak in my admiration of Danny Kaye, whose performance I'd witnessed live. when Ma and Aunty Lily took me to the Colosseum in Johannesburg. The event was one of the highlights of my young life. and the other kids laughed.

Recovering my ruffled feathers I marched, proud as a rooster at cockcrow, into the Heder grounds, next to the Synagogue. Each type of autograph is allocated according to color. Blue for Sportsmen, red for film stars, and so on. One set of pages was for autographs of friends. I asked the kids to sign and while doing so allowed them to admire the signatures I considered famous, despite their mockery. Ma had taught me to stand up for what I believed in and I took her advice.

Valerie stopped playing with the girls and came up to me. She stretched out her hand, asking if I would allow her to contribute something to my album. My jaw dropped open from surprise and my chest swelled with pride, as I handed the page to her. I offered her a full, beautiful pink page on which her piece would be displayed.

She had witnessed my miserable performance a few days earlier. I had put the issue out of my mind, but she remembered and wrote:

"Friendship is like china, once broken it can be repaired but the crack remains forever".

Friends were important in life, but by being angry I broke friendships. 'you must learn to control your anger", My mother was right, but try as I might I couldn't follow her advice.

60 years were to pass before I found the answer in the teaching of the Dalai Lama: Anger can't be controlled, it has to be eradicated.

In his book, "Healing Anger" he reveals the secret; Divert emotional energy to mental energy. Emotional energy is irrational and prevents us from making decisions based on rational thought. My mother advised me to count to ten before reacting to a burst of emotional energy. Emotional energy is caused by disappointment, which, in the world of suffering in which we live, is a constant companion.

I healed myself of anger. Not a difficult task, but you need to be determined and think in terms of not having anger at all. Have patience. Anyone with determination, consistency, and patience can achieve a state of no anger.

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