love. week seventeen.
city. new york city
Every year before ‘parents teacher night’, my elementary school teacher would tell the class that the greatest gift a child can give their parents is the gift of nachas.
I can’t think of an English word for nachas. It’s something like pride, but not pride in yourself and your own accomplishments. It’s rather pride in someone else and their accomplishments. Of course, it’s hard to feel proud about the accomplishments of random strangers, so nachas usually (or always?) occurs when someone we care about or care for accomplishes something or progresses in some way.
My teacher would inevitably say that they wishhhh they could give every parent a good report, so that they’ll have nachas from us, but alas, it just isn’t up to them. I would have to work extra hard to make sure that when my parents showed up for PTA, they’d come home with faces shining with nachas, and not god forbid disappointment (if nachas was the greatest gift from a child to a parent, disappointment was surely the greatest punishment).
Now, nachas was not something a young self-centered boy could possibly comprehend, so we just took our teachers’ word for it.
But a couple months ago, I decided to try to de-center my life from myself, and begin trying to take care of others. I suppose that for most people this comes rather naturally, and they transition to mature romantic relationships and then have kids of their own. For myself, I decided to start small. The smallest, actually. I went around the corner one day and bought some plants for my room.
The plants now rely on me for their semi-weekly watering. Their lives are in my hands. And (now months later), I have developed a caring relationship for them. I pay attention to how they’re feeling, try to give them some fresh air in the morning, and set them up so that they can enjoy the sun’s rays as much as possible. It’s actually kind of cute because we share a room lol it’s like we live together.
So I decided to level up and buy a fish too. As it turns out, taking care of a fish is not as simple as I’d hoped, but as a 28 year old man with two degrees and lots of job experience, I felt that I was up to the task. Now I take care of three plants and a fish. The fish-store guy told me that I can only fit one fish in a tank, so I started setting up YouTube videos of other fish for him to watch so he doesn’t get lonely. Don’t worry, I make sure not to give him too much screen time, and never before breakfast.
I know that I’m the one taking care of him, but I like to think that on some level we take care of each other. Is it too melodramatic to say that all we’ve really got in this world is each other? Just kidding, I’ve got some friends, but he’s stuck with me. Poor guy.
Anywayssss, once in a while, while I’m watching my little dude gulping down his food or attacking his YouTube frenemies, I feel this warm glow in my stomach and a soft smile comes to my lips. Or, when I open the window in the morning and watch as the sun glows against the leaves of my plants and the breeze tickles their slender branches, I sit back and take pride in my plants’ joyful blossoming. And if I didn’t know better I’d say I was feeling nachas.
I think I wrote about a community meditation group that I started a few weeks ago. This past week, one of my neighbors joined for the first time and I did my best to introduce her to the form of meditation that I’ve been practicing. Before she left, I sent her a link to download Sam Harris’s Waking Up app, so that she could go through Sam’s introductory course on her own in between our weekly sessions.
The next day I got a text from her with a screenshot of that day’s meditation along with the caption: “Day 2 completed.”
I can’t describe how happy that made me feel. I didn’t want to seem creepy so I just texted back: “Love it! This has been life changing for me, so I’m feeling really excited for you,” but the truth is that ‘excited’ wasn’t the right emotion. It was more like nachas. I felt proud of her, and was joyful that I was able to act as a catalyst for her own (potential) growth.
Thought to ponder: how far can I stretch nachas? In one direction, I could grow my sense of care to include not just my plants, fish, and meditation partner, but also include friends, family, neighbors, and (on a theoretical level) the rest of humanity and life in general. Then, when something good happens to any of them, I’d (presumably) feel, not jealousy, but joy in their accomplishment/growth/good fortune.
On the other side, what if I could treat my own work, not as an extension of my ego, but rather as its individual being? For example, takes this blog. I try to dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to developing it. And so, when it begins to take shape, grow, spread, etc, I feel pride in it. Not pride in a selfish sense, not as a form of arrogance or self-congratulations. But something more like nachas. I pour myself into this project, the way that I might pour myself into a student or a pet (without any expectations of gaining anything in return, all I really want is for them to succeed), so when this project does begin to show growth, I can sit back and beam from afar, like a soccer mom rooting from the bleachers.
Perhaps by nourishing, rather than directing, various elements of my own life, I can begin to take nachas not only in the achievements of others, but even in my own fumbling attempts to create something cool.