“Ani iparon tov.”
“I am a good pencil.”
The story goes that one day a new immigrant to Israel, Shlomo, was pulled over by the police for running a red light. As he sat in his car waiting for the policeman to approach his window (yes, here in Israel the police get out of the car and come to you), one would think that he would start to panic.
I don’t know if it is an ingrained human response, but anytime you are pulled over by the police, you start sweating, the fight or flight response may kick in, you start justifying every offense you have ever committed (“I didn’t really break the lawnmower I borrowed; just normal wear and tear….”), excuses and/or denials are established to the current offense (was it really an offense?), etc.
The policeman approached the car, arms flailing, screaming, and getting all red in the face and Shlomo came up with a unique approach – he decided to play the foreigner card. As the policeman explained, in a very loud voice, what Shlomo had done wrong, how innocent people could have gotten hurt, how many points Shlomo was going to have on his license and how large of a fine Shlomo would have to pay. Shlomo stared blankly and calmly back at the policeman, as if he had understood nothing of what the policeman had said. When the policeman finally stopped ranting in order to give Shlomo a chance to rebutt, Shlomo looked him straight in the eye and said, “Ani iparon tov.” (I am a good pencil.)
At that moment, the policeman realized that all of his vocal gymnastics were for naught, he slammed closed his ticket book and walked away in a humph. “Foreigners!”
I like this story but am not sure really why. Maybe the fact that Shlomo was able to keep his cool when I would probably be hysterical. Maybe the quick thinking.
One thing’s for sure, I repeat this phrase, “Ani iparon tov”, and it is growing on me. I have been absent from my writing for several months and I don’t really have a good excuse why. Today, “Ani iparon tov” led to a new insight and got me to think about writing again.
I, for one, almost always write in pencil (when I am not writing on the computer). When I was growing up, it was forbidden to use pen in school until at least 5th or 6th grade and so I became used to pencils. I also now appreciate the qualities of and lessons you can learn from a good pencil.
1. Pencils allow us to make mistakes. They remind us that we are not perfect, but there is the possibility, with the help of a good eraser, to correct our mistakes.
2. Pencils wear down. They get shorter. Our time here is limited and the life we live comes to an inevitable end. If the pencil lead is not strong, the pencil wears down faster. If the eraser falls off or is not good, then the functionality of a pencil is limited (see #1 above). However, if a pencil is a good strong one, it maintains its complete functionality until the end.
3. Pencils go through periods of being sharp and needing to be sharpened. Even the best pencil needs, every once in a while, to be redefined. You need a quality sharpener in order to regain its point. Pencils need to be sharpened and redefined, but they are being sharpened from the same simple core which exists from the beginning. Sometimes, the surrounding wood takes over the point and it needs to be pushed away. Sometimes, the core itself is split and the pencil needs to be honed to expose the parts of that core lead which are still united.
4. One pencil is not sufficient. “Bring 2 Number 2 pencils to the test.” People need others. We need to lean on others, and to help them out. Sometimes we fail; the other people in our life are our backup. Sometimes, we are their backup.
I am going through a difficult time in my personal life. Today, as I was driving to visit my dead car and retrieve the date-book I left in it last week, it occurred to me that I should be proud to be a “good pencil”. I need to be sharpened because I am worn down. The wood sheath has built up to obscure the inner being but the lead core is still as clear and strong as it has always been. I have made many mistakes, but I still have my eraser. And I have many more than “2 Number 2 pencils” to help me continue writing the story.