Why It Matters
Because it’s someone to admire and emulate. One who understands the key to being “a real human being” and who by their sense of what is right, and responsible, ………leave a positive mark that lingers long after they’re gone.
Earlier that morning, I had picked up the daily newspaper, opened it at random, and begun reading. I recall the days’ main news item, …… Kofi Annan…..
………………It Read; “Kofi has left this life.”As clear as day and night, memories of that very moment, when that news arrived in our living room is still as vivid to me today. I still recall the chipping of the birds jumping from tree to tree in the lawn, the traffic, the breeze coming in through the open window toying its way though the curtains. Even the page, and location of the article, were all still quite lucid.
Time seemed to have come to a standstill as I read through the paper, and learnt more …… Mr. Annan …… was being celebrated…….
The newspaper continued to memorialize the attributes and contributions, of this honorable and accomplished man, I suddenly zoned out. I became preoccupied with thoughts of the implication of Mr. Annans’ exit. Happening at a time when he was most needed. This!!….this ….. experience ….. at the prime of his age….I found it disturbing, and yet also felt a sense of elevation for him.
“What a mensch!!….” I must have said just a whee loudly. This guy was a real mensch!” I heard myself repeat more slowly, as if to prolong the taste of the words in my mouth. Speaking more to myself, and not to anyone in particular, not even certain Aunty Baby across the room could have heard.
The feeling, a while ago, of being rushed and fragmented by the cloud of trivia in the newspaper, had swiftly fallen away. I found myself gliding into the lovely world of real thought.
“Mensch,” is someone to admire and emulate, and who understands the key to being “a real human being” Their heightened sense of what is right, and responsible, leaves a positive mark that lingers long after they’re gone.
I was however, soon jolted back into the room by Aunty Babys’ question. It confirmed, that my remark had carried across the room. ..Whaaaat!!!!….She was actually talking to me? As I turned, I noticed she was looking at me, with an inquisitive expression on her face.
“ aha …uh…..what did you say ?” She asked.
Suddenly, it dawned on me, at that moment, that the question was actually directed at me.
This question Aunty Baby, was asking was not just a fair question, ….it was a question worth pondering over. I told myself, as I began to vaguely appreciate, that the answer to this question was deep, and profound in insights. It was an opportunity for a deep conversation.
The more I thought of it, the more I began to feel the itch to continue the conversation and illuminate the meaning of mensch. Yet another right set of circumstances, was evolving, to draw out more people to escape the shortsighted mindset.
Moreover, the other reason I deeply resonated with the word mensch, at that moment, for me at least – and I’ll bet I’m not alone – was that events of recent days which had confirmed my worst fears. Increasingly, we had a serious mensch deficit.
………………… What is a Mensch?
“What is Mensch?” asked Aunty Babie, redirecting my thought train, a faint barely discernable note of impatience, in her voice.
“Ok …Ok….you see, in and of itself,” I had began, “mensch literally means nothing more than “human being.” – thats’ it – “a human being.” Plainly, and from its Yiddish and German roots, mensch means “a man,” “dhano” if i spoke to you in President Obamas’ father-tongue And yet there’s something deeply profound in this simplicity.
“You see,” I continued, “There’s a strong ethical component to being a mensch, and even, infact I dare say, a measure of self-sacrifice.
“How so?” inquired Aunty Baby now revealing heightened interest. The book HIPPIE by Paulo Coelho, that she had been reading now lay half-shut-half-open, on her laps.
“Mensch,” I began, “Is a description reserved for a decent, upright, mature, and responsible person. Thought, it’s funny, what can happen to a word once it emigrates, because English just doesn’t have the right colour to capture words as clearly is the example with mensch . Like many other words, somehow emotion, more than literal translation, is bottled up in this strangely-lettered [מענטש ] Yiddish word.
“Over the years,” I continued, The word has come to describe a very special kind of person. The term is used as a high compliment, implying the rarity and value of that individual’s qualities. Usually the likeable kind of person you meet, and you wish you had met earlier.
“Just be a mensch! Is a typical Jewish mother’s traditional summon to their children, on what to aspire for. And that besides just study, work, love, live – the child should do whatever it is they want to do. But at the end of the day — they should be a mentsch!”
So when a Jewish mother was actually yelling “be a mensch, meaning “Be a person!” or “Be a human!” One had to have higher aspirations, certainly do better, than achieving just “human” status!
“So you see Aunty Baby,” I said in emphasis, “though a fine definition, as far as it goes, in the English language, but as is with so many Yiddish words, and really in all the languages I speak, there’s more to the word than translation.
“Do you gather?” I prodded, feeling a quiet sense of gladness seeing flicker of light in her playful eyes, the thoughts were sinking in, that twitch of her lips that acknowleged understanding was there – I loved it. A felt some unique relief at the opportunity to let the thoughts off my chest, as my late uncle Sakayo would have said.
She listen intensely, I loved these engagements, because lately, I had been thinking quite intensely about these issues, and this conversation with Aunty Baby, gave me a chance to reflect more.
Turning to face her. I added, “you know, in a country where every other person comes to you wearing a mask, a real mensch comes naked. Besides, considering the frequent reported incidences of corruption, impunity, suspicious murders, people of questionable integrity in public life ……even the bully in traffic….… and so on…. All point to a scarcity of people who qualify for the honour of being called mensch.
The serious mensch deficit these days makes it even more important to explain the meaning of the word mensch .”
This is someone to admire and emulate, and who understands the key to being “a real human being” and by their sense of what is right, and responsible, ……… they leave a positive mark among the living that lingers long after they’re gone.
………………… More Coffee?
Aunty Baby abruptly stood-up, tilting her head and blinking in rapid succession, as if to repack and fit my image more accurately into her head. I could see she was hanging onto every word.
“Some more Coffee!” she asked. more of a statement than an inquiry. And without waiting for my answer, she poured for me another cup of steaming water, and doused it with a spoonful of Dormans coffee. She didn’t put sugar….that was yet another story of the lack of mensch…. recent imports contained mercury!!!She then resumed her seat, and the conversation continue to roll, as we bonded, a modern face of happy marriages, I relished these moments. Actually besides our movie dates, this was one of those moments, as a couple, we both enjoyed immensely, and looked forward to.
……and so ….
“To describe someone as a mensch,” I continued, “means they are a good person. decent, generous and fair.”
“And it’s interesting, I added, there doesn’t seem to be a difference in the word mensch for a man or a woman; it’s the same title, gender here is irrelevant.
One of the highest compliments one can give anyone is to describe him or her as a true human being – a mensch.
….Surely..how much better this country, this world would be, if we could all aim for that very worthy mark of being a mensch. But his most powerful lessons in this regard come from simply watching him be who he is and interact with others.
Today besides Kofi Annan, I grieve another mensch …..my #kenyanmench…my best friend, this mensch inspired me to escape from shortsightedness , a person whose TRUE STORY has not been told yet….…. and yet …..I trust that another is born …..IN YOU!!
In my need to share my grief with those who will understand. I grieve poorly. This helps.