Joy in the Gray

Dana Hemelt essays

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A few months ago, my mother asked me about the guest list for my son's upcoming bar mitzvah. She gently and neutrally asked if I would consider inviting her friends Sue and Barbara, if she covered the cost.

In my typical fashion, I quickly and decisively responded no. We had this conversation three years earlier, before my daughter's bat mitzvah. Sue and Barbara were two of the four women my mother played mah jongg with weekly, and she wanted to share this happy occasion with them.

While I understood my mother’s point of view, I didn’t invite the women. Their friendship with my mother began after I was an adult, so I had no relationship with either of them. They seemed lovely from the few times I had met them, but I wanted all the people there that day to mean something to my husband or me, if not to our daughter.

This was a black and white issue for me; there was no wiggle room. My mother was disappointed, but she handled it with grace and let the matter drop.

Now I found myself in the same position, three years later. I reacted in the same way, at least initially. Then a strange thing started to happen.

I started to grow a little-not taller, or wider, but in a way that matters. I put myself in my mother’s shoes, and imagined how disappointed I would be, decades from now, if I could not share my grandchild’s milestone with my friends. What was black and white blurred to gray, and I had no easy answer.

I thought about how happy it would make my mother if her two friends could be there, and I thought about what it would cost me to make that happen.

I’m not referring to the financial cost; adding two couples to the list would barely be noticed. I thought about the emotional cost. Was I going to be upset to see them there that day? Of course not. Was their presence going to make the day any less special? Of course not. If anything, their presence would add to the celebration of my son and this important event in our lives.

Then why was I clutching my decision like a spoiled child, refusing to relinquish it? I had no idea. I did know that any negatives that would result from saying yes were far outweighed by the positives that would result for my mother.

I didn’t come up with that equation three years ago. Yet over that time, I have changed my perspective on these kinds of decisions. Why waste the opportunity to bring joy to someone I love? I had no point to make and nothing to prove, other than my need to make clearly defined decisions.

Last Monday was my mother’s birthday. I met her for lunch, and as I was driving home, I decided to tell her I changed my mind. I thought it would be something nice to share on her birthday, but I had no idea it would be such a gift to her.

When I told my mother we were inviting the ladies to the bar mitzvah, she started crying. If I had any doubt about changing my mind, it vanished. Her gratitude was humbling, and her excitement was contagious. Her tears brought forth a few of my own, as I realized how easy it had been to tip the scales towards joy.

As much as my Type A personality would often like them to be, things aren’t always black and white. Decisions aren’t always black and white.  As I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve matured, I’m finding it easier to welcome in the slivers of gray.

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About the Author

Dana Hemelt

In her head, Dana is the next great novelist, stand up comic, fashionista, and interior decorator trapped in the body and life of a suburban mom. She writes about her attempts at being amazing at .

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February 2015 – XO
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