Humans of New York is one of the few social media accounts that both has over 11 million followers, and a consistent, heartwarming, positive comments section. The owner of the account, whom I know only as Brandon (I’m sure he has a last name somewhere), finds and showcases human beings whom we discover are both completely ordinary and astonishingly special. He takes their pictures and writes up their stories in their own words. Sometimes, he writes these as multiple parts in a series, dropping them slowly and carefully over a day or two like a long-awaited dessert.

Recently Brandon introduced us to “Grandma,” an older Black woman from Harlem, who has dedicated her life to helping kids and adults in her community learn to read. She started a literacy center that was so much more, and imparted life-long lessons there. Here’s one, in her own words:

“Everyone knows Grandma. And everyone knows that Grandma’s thing is encouraging kids to do better. The children always bring their report card to Grandma’s Place. And if they do better than the time before, they get to pick out a toy. I don’t compare them to their cousin, or their older brother. I want them to move forward at their own pace. If they were less absent, and participated more—that’s all that matters to Grandma. Grandma is very proud of you. Go get yourself a toy off the shelf.”

Do you hear what Grandma just said? She said that all you have to compare yourself to is… your former self. 

Now, my friends. The high holy days are upon us. And it’s a time of year that some of us start to squirm. Because you know that Jewish guilt is some strong stuff. But Grandma’s message is so relevant. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. Yes, pay attention to the inspirational behavior of others. Yes, let it motivate you. But don’t ever tell yourself you’re not good enough because you’re not them. The only appropriate point of comparison is yourself from a year ago, a month ago, a week ago. Yesterday.  And if you haven’t improved? Haven’t grown? Haven’t matured?

Well, then Grandma will not give you a toy this year. 

Kidding. That’s just information. And the question is: what will you do with that information? Where will it take you? 

Because all you need to be is better than before. 

I think about the upcoming holidays and how hard it has been to arrange services because of the new wave of Covid. The kids are starting school and will they really have to wear masks?? Again?? It’s easy to get overwhelmed and think, “Here we go again… I thought we would have been done with all this by now!”

But now think back to last year. Plexiglass around my children’s desks at school. Socially distanced everything. No hugs. 

We are better than before. Things are so much better now, thank God, with vaccinations readily available. We are better off than a year ago. We gotta remember that that’s the goal. That’s the goal of everything. One foot in front of the other. Two steps forward, one step back. It’s hard that we’re not there. But we’re more there than we used to be. 

Better than before. Right, Grandma? Shana Tova!