Jewish World Review May 24, 2006 / 26 Iyar, 5766
By Libby Lazewnik
"I see that Malky is absent today," the third-grade teacher remarked, looking up from her roll book. "Who wants to take her homework over to her house after school today?"
Almost before the words were out of her mouth, a hand shot up from the front row, the owner of that hand leaning forward across her desk in her earnest attempt to attract the teacher's attention.
She need not have worried she had no competition. No other hand had gone up to volunteer. "Thank you, Mindy," the teacher smiled. Even so early in the year, she was already beginning to recognize in Mindy the classic signs of a "do-er". She was always the first one to leap to her feet when there was a job to be done. The first to undertake any responsibility that might be up for grabs as she'd done just now, in the matter of the absent girl's homework.
If some of the other girls complained that Mindy could be a little bossy that, the teacher reflected, was the flip side of the coin. If you take responsibility for things, you have to manage them. And managing projects often means managing people. Mindy would have to learn, over the course of time, to handle the people under her management a bit more diplomatically... Right now, though, the teacher was happy that she'd accepted the job of bringing the absent Malky's work home to her. Malky was a new girl in the class whom no one knew very well yet.
At the moment that Mindy was leaning forward to grab responsibility with both hands, the second girl, Malky, was lying back in bed enjoying her sick day.
Perhaps "enjoying" is too strong a word. Malky was genuinely ill today, with a sore throat and a touch of fever that had laid her low. The thing was, Malky liked being laid low. She was a relaxed sort of person who found the laid-back position very comfortable for reading, and dreaming, and watching the world go by.
She was deeply immersed in a book when her mother walked into her room that afternoon, with Mindy in tow.
"A friend from school came by to bring you your homework," her mother announced.
"Oh, good!" Malky said. She put aside her book, hitched herself a couple of inches higher on her pillows, and gave her visitor a shy smile. As the door closed behind the mother, Mindy asked, "Why 'Oh, good!'? Do you love doing homework so much?"
Bashfully, Malky giggled. "Not exactly. It's just that well, Ma was saying that I'd have to call someone in my class about the homework tonight. Now you've saved me the trouble!"
"What's so bad about calling someone for the homework?"
"It would be hard for you, too, if you were shy like me." Oddly enough, in Mindy's dynamic presence Malky felt all her shyness dropping away.
Mindy sat up straighter. "Are you shy? I didn't know. Well, you don't have to worry. You be my friend, and I'll help you out. Okay?"
And so, the pact was made. Two little girls one energetic and outgoing, the other rather passive and retiring was it any wonder that they were drawn together like a magnet to a paper clip?
The pact held firmly together all through the rest of that year, and the one after that. When they were in the fifth grade, Mindy volunteered to head the Fifth Grade Flea Market, a project that Mindy herself thought up to raise money for tzedakah (charity). If her friend Malky shuddered at all the work the flea market entailed, Mindy relished it. She shouldered the responsibility with gusto, drawing up plans, apportioning jobs and generally making things go with a swing. She gave Malky jobs, too, which Malky was happy to carry out in her own quiet, non-assuming way. The Flea Market was a smashing success, and when it was over Mindy made a pretty speech to the class, accepting with thanks the big, stuffed bear they'd bought her as a token of their appreciation.
"I'd like to thank all the girls whose work made this flea market possible. They may have been behind the scenes where you couldn't see them much, but they're really the ones who kept things going." And she flashed a special smile at her best friend, Malky, hovering in the rear as usual. Malky smiled back, knowing full well that it was Mindy and others like her who had really kept things going, and not her laid-back self at all.
Then, suddenly, they were in the eighth grade and leaders of the school and then, most amazing of all, they were getting ready to graduate! When the class practiced for their graduation ceremony, Malky made sure to take a place in the back row, where the pressure of hundreds of watching eyes would not fall on her. Mindy happened to notice that Malky was hardly able to see over the head of the girl in front of her. She brought this to the attention of the teacher in charge, who immediately moved Malky two rows up. Malky was not happy.
"I was just fine where I was," she grumbled, for the first time in her life annoyed with her friend for being so managing. "You didn't have to interfere, you know." She paused. "Or maybe you did. Maybe it's just your nature to interfere..."
"Hey, that's not fair," Mindy said with some justification. "You've never complained before when I did things that helped you out. Why're so upset now?"
Malky sighed. "Oh, never mind. It's not really that important. You just dragged me out of my favorite place in the back, that's all."
"I'll never understand why you like it back there so much," Mindy said in exasperation. "It's much more fun to be out in front a part of things!"
"For you, maybe." And that was all that Malky would say. Anything more might lead to a fight, and she liked Mindy too much to want to fight with her. Besides, fighting was so exhausting...
High school followed the same pattern as before. Mindy took charge; Mindy managed; Mindy took the jobs no one else wanted and did them magnificently. If she stirred up some resentment now and then with her managerial style, the other girls tended to take it in stride. It would have been churlish to complain when the class leader led them with such aplomb.
"Don't you mind always being in Mindy's shadow?" a classmate asked Malky once, as the two girls happened to find themselves walking in the same direction one day.
Malky gave the question serious thought. "No," she decided.
"It's nice and cool in the shade," Malky said with a smile. "I like it there. I can do my own thing in peace, knowing that Mindy's out there getting the job done for both of us."
"Hmphf," the other girl snorted, not understanding at all. She had to feel sorry for a girl who let someone else "lead her around by the nose" (as she thought of it) the way Mindy clearly led Malky.
Malky didn't bother trying to explain. Mindy's personality suited her own just fine and she didn't need anyone's pity, thank you very much!
Of course, they had their moments. Occasionally Mindy overstepped the line such as the time she tried to dictate what sort of books Malky should read. Malky would have none of that.
"You have your tastes and I have mine," she said firmly.
"But I really think you'd enjoy these so much more!" Mindy urged.
"Mindy," Malky drawled, with a glint in her eye that warned, 'Back off, or else!'. "Aren't you being just a teeny bit bossy?"
The highlight of their senior year was a huge, glittering Production, which Mindy naturally headed and which Malky just as naturally dreamed or read her way through. She was given a small role to play, which she did willingly enough. And when the applause thundered through the hall at the end of it all, and Mindy was treated to a five-minute-long standing ovation, no one was happier for her than Malky.
The two girls went to different Israeli seminaries the following year. They were staying only blocks away from each other, however, and so were able to remain nearly as close as before. That is, Mindy was able to manage Malky's life nearly as assiduously as she'd always done. A new seminary friend asked Malky one day, when she'd returned from a trip to the supermarket in Mindy's company, loaded down with some new type of fruit that Mindy had insisted she try, "Why do you let her dictate to you like that?"
"I like being dictated to most of the time," Malky told her cheerfully. "Mindy's a leader, and I'm a follower. It works."
"But why does it work?" her friend pressed.
Malky considered. "Well, my own nature is a mixture of shyness and laziness. Normally, those are things would keep me boxed into a world of my own. Mindy's dynamic personality lets me be myself, while still being a part of things. Get it?"
Her friend wasn't sure she did, but Malky didn't mind. It worked for her, and that was all that mattered.
Then the year was over and the girls were flying home, sad to be leaving Jerusalem but exhilarated, too. It was time to start their new, adult lives back home. One of the most exciting and scary challenges that faced them was that of finding their life's partners. Marriage loomed on the horizon, and it was time to go forward to meet it.
As might have been expected, it was Mindy who found Malky's husband for her.
Mindy got married first. Malky danced at her best friend's wedding with an energy that she'd exhibited on very few occasions in her life. And just a few months later, Malky called her with the news: "Yanky brought home a friend from his yeshivah, and I've decided that he's perfect for you. Can I try to set it up?"
Malky gave her the green light. Her mother asked, only half jokingly, "You're not going to let Mindy tell you who to marry, are you?"
"Of course not! I'll make up my own mind."
And she did. No one knew her better than her best friend, and the boy that Mindy had selected as "perfect" for Malky turned out, not surprisingly, to be that very thing. Malky liked him right away, and he obviously felt the same way because just a few weeks later the two were engaged.
After that, the years began to pick up a new momentum. The two friends had homes of their own to care for, and soon they had families to care for, too. Six years later found them the mothers of three children apiece, living just blocks away from one another and trying, despite the difficulties, to keep their friendship alive. Mindy always let Malky know about a special sale on housewares or children's clothing, and they attended women's gatherings and shiurim together whenever they could.
Each of them had a daughter in the first grade at the same school. On the night of the first Parent-Teacher conference, both Mindy and Malky went in an optimistic spirit, expecting to hear only wonderful things about their girls. And they were not disappointed: They did hear wonderful things about their girls. But they also heard something else...
Malky ran into Mindy in the parking lot almost literally. Both of them had been so lost in thought that they hadn't seen each other coming and only narrowly avoided a collision in the dim lot.
"Hi, Mindy," Malky greeted her abstractedly. "Well? Did you get a good report?"
"Fine," Mindy answered in a distracted voice. She lifted agonized eyes to her friend and burst out, "The teacher said that she can see signs that my Kayla has problems accepting authority! She hinted that it may be because she has such a 'dominating' mother. She might as well have said an 'overbearing' mother I could hear it in her voice. Malky! Do you think I'm overbearing?"
"Well, you are the managing type," Malky acknowledged. "Maybe you need to back down from micro-managing Kayla's life. She has a strong personality, too, you know. You're bound to clash."
"That's what the teacher said." Mindy's eyes sparkled with an unshed tear. "All my life, I've been praised for being so dynamic for being a leader for managing everything and everyone around me! And now, I'm suddenly told that I have to be just the opposite with my own child. It's a humbling thought..."
"My Dini's teacher told me that Dini needs me to be more active in her life," Malky confessed. "She said that Dini is a passive girl who needs a mother who's the opposite to bring her out of herself and help her reach her potential." She gave a dry chuckle, liberally touched with trepidation. "Imagine after all these years, I have to learn how to be active. I have to become dynamic in helping my daughter through life just the way you always helped me. How am I going to do it?"
"Oh, you'll do it. You'll do it because you have to." The sparkle in Mindy's eye did not come from tears now, but from something else. "Isn't it amazing?" she said softly. "I've always known that there was a master plan in this world..."
"And a Master Planner," Malky broke in.
"And a Master Planner," Mindy agreed. "And now we can see how true it is with our own eyes! After all this time, after growing up and getting married and having children, you'd think we'd pretty much know where we stand. You'd think we'd know what our particular challenges in life are. And then boom! Along comes a new challenge that makes us turn ourselves inside-out and become the opposite of what we've always been because our own precious child needs us to be..."
"And because it's time for us to grow up a little more, too" Malky smiled. "To develop the parts of us we've let slide till now."
"You said it." Mindy looked at her. "Well, good luck to both of us, old friend. We're going to need it."
And the two women who had once been two girls went home to their separate families to face with courage and good cheer and a good deal of fervent prayer for success the separate challenges that their lives had handed them.
Two girls one leaning forward and the other, so to speak, leaning back.
Kayla was the forceful one, the one with the vivid personality that made others cluster around her and follow her lead. Dini was quieter, shyer, and certainly less energetic a girl who liked nothing more than to hide herself from the world behind the covers of a good book.
They had been friends ever since they could remember, as their mothers were always visiting back and forth. Now, as they entered their twelfth year of life and looked forward to their bas mitzvahs, both girls found themselves in a reflective mood.
"How're things going at home?" Dini asked, picking up an apple with a yawn and then putting it down; eating felt like too much trouble at the moment.
"Better," Kayla answered cautiously. "My mom's really trying to stay off my back. She actually let me pick out my own outfit for my bas mitzvah party! Now, that's progress!" She eyed her friend quizzically. "How 'bout you?"
"My mom's improving," Dini said, deciding to go for the apple after all. "I was having trouble with a certain teacher, and instead of urging me to 'work it out', she actually picked up a phone and had it out with the teacher herself! For someone like my mother, that took a lot of courage..."
Two girls... two women... two challenges or four or a thousand. And up above, a Master Planner who designs the perfect challenge for each person and gets it just right, every time. In the process, all the girls and women and boys and men stretch and grow until they hardly recognize themselves any more!
Higher and higher they grow, until their heads reach the clouds and their souls touch the very foot of the Throne of Glory...
As Kayla remarked about her mother just now "Now, that's progress!"
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Willard the Two Faced
© 2005, Yated Ne'eman