Thursday, December 13, 2007

In Praise of Parallax

Emily (age 7) has discovered oatmeal. It is her new favorite breakfast.

On Monday, her older sister and veteran oatmeal fan, Hannah, taught her how to make it. (We have an instant water dispenser, which makes this very simple.)

Yesterday, after witnessing Emily's less-than-successful first solo attempt (result: oat soup), I subjected the girls to a lecture entitled, "Best Practices in Measuring Cup Management: Theoretical Approaches and Practical Concerns".

It was a multi-media presentation (diagrams on the refrigerator door) complete with a live demonstration with audience participation (we moved our heads around while looking at some water in a measuring cup) and a question-and-answer period at the end of the session.

I know it was well received, because this morning, Abigail (age 9) serenaded Emily with:

"Measure from the bottom of the meniscus - that is how to pour the water for breakfast..."

This original composition is best appreciated when rendered by someone whose natural mispronunciations make it rhyme. ("menist-kist", "brefkist")

After they left for school, I settled down to read my e-mails.

I subscribe to more e-mail newsletters than I can read. To keep my inbox clear, I set up filters that collect newsletters in a folder. I read what I can when time permits.

This morning, I received a copy of an internationally-distributed-sometimes-inspiring-and-profound-Torah-portion-related newsletter that I usually just skim, apparently forwarded by my rabbi, Rabbi G., directly to me.

Mine was the only e-mail address in the "to" field, yet he hadn't written an introductory note. I hadn't spoken with him in over a month. This was the first time he forwarded something from the Internet to me.

Rabbi G. often contacts me by e-mail, but his messages are usually very focused and specific one-sentence notes that ask or answer a question or request. When he sends e-mails to the whole shul, they are always short and action-oriented.

Clearly there was something in this newsletter that demanded my attention, something he assumed I'd want or need to know, something I'd notice and understand immediately when I saw it. It had to be something that needed no explanation.

Ignoring all the barking e-mails in my inbox, I studied this (long) newsletter, trying to discern its message for me. I read and re-read the divrei Torah, thinking about each sentence, testing its applicability to my life - and to my imagination of Rabbi G.'s perception of my life.

I read all of the classifieds, donations, and dedications, looking for names of relatives and close friends. Did someone die? Did a family member make a sizable donation? What was the last question I asked Rabbi G.?

Could the parenting advice column be what he wanted me to read? Was this his way of telling me something, gently preparing me for something about a friend or loved one?

My anxiety mounted. I was missing it. It was still too early in the morning to call him and ask for clarification.

Maybe it was meant for someone else. Maybe it was a slip of his mouse, sent to me in error. Perhaps I'd soon receive another e-mail, this time with an explanatory note.

On my third reading, I figured it out.

The newsletter was not sent by my rabbi, but from the e-mail address of one of the newsletter's editors who shares my rabbi's surname. Not Rabbi G. G., but Rabbi D. G.

The newsletter editors must have had a problem sending this issue, and sent it as a forward from a personal address. Thus it fell through my e-mail filters and into my inbox. I had never noticed that the editor of this newsletter had the same last name as my rabbi. Since they use "BCC", each recipient gets an copy as the only recipient address in the "to" box.

I took a deep breath, and indulged my inner Winnie the Pooh with a smile. "Silly old bear."

Later this morning, talking to a friend on the telephone, I caught myself sharing a couple of points mentioned in that newsletter.

I had this information to share, only because I read the newsletter so carefully. This only happened because I thought mistakenly it was addressed directly to me.

Changing my perspective changed my measurement of the value newsletter's content. Unlike the water in Emily's oatmeal, when I looked at the newsletter from a different point of view, I really did get more out of it.

My "parallax error" in perception resulted in better accuracy!

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Jaffer said...

I guess that when the children will perform their first chemistry experiments eying menistkists from burettes and pipetts, they'll be glad they had their brefkist that morning !

My dad's initial is M.A. and mine is M.J. So it's not too hard to guess how many times I get to say, "What e-mail" or "I sent and e-mail ?" and my favourite, "No, I didn't get your reply, to an e-mail I never sent".

Juggling Frogs said...


I can just imagine the sonnets Abigail will be able to write when rhyming burettes and pipettes!

Parents need to be careful, though. This is what can happen when kids learn the Scientific Method.

Unknown said...

Just wanted to let you know I am out of the Underground and back in the blogging world. Thanks for the note of support though :)

Juggling Frogs said...


Glad to hear you're back among the blogging!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for participating in the Christmas Edition of the Carnival of Family Life! The Carnival will go live at midnight (Pacific time) on December 24, 2007, at Colloquium!

Hope you had a wonderful Hanukkah and are looking forward to an excellent New Year!

Orthonomics said...

Hoping you will be coming back to blog. I have to say this presentation hit home with us this week. We have been working on more exact measuring while preparing water for receipes. Usually my son is right on, but somehow we wasn't seeing straight this Friday in the kitchen.

If you liked this article, congratulations! You have great taste. Please brew yourself a cup of coffee.
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