He steps in a pile of strawberries. His white shoes become his red shoes. He stops, says “Oh no,” and keeps walking, singing now about his love for his red shoes. Then he wanders into a pile of blueberries. He just keeps walking along and singing his song.
Then Pete steps into a big puddle of mud. But once again, he keeps walking and singing, “I love my brown shoes…” Just as he gets closer to school, he steps into a bucket of water. The water washes away all the colors. But now his shoes are wet. He walks into school singing, “I love my wet shoes!”
On the surface, it’s a story telling us that accidents happen. It also reveals much more.
1. Attitude is everything. Life does not always go the way we think it will. Pete got excited when he put on his new white shoes. That excitement and joy did not diminish when they became his red shoes, his brown shoes and his wet shoes. Things change. Sometimes we step in mud. Like Pete, we can choose to stay positive.
2. You can always start over. Every accident became an opportunity for Pete to have a new pair of shoes. His approach reminds me of a great story told by Rabbi Harold Kushner.
“I was sitting on a beach one summer day, he writes, “watching two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand. They were hard at work building an elaborate sandcastle by the water’s edge, with gates and towers and moats and internal passages. Just when they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came along and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand.”
“I expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all their hard work. But they surprised me. Instead, they ran up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding hands, and sat down to build another castle.”
3. Keep singing your song. Through every accident Pete keeps singing. He was probably sad, but the singing helped cheer him and up keep him going. What do you have in your life that keeps you going? Is it a special song, a mantra, a prayer? Perhaps it is a deeply engrained sense of purpose and system of values? Amidst the puddles of mud we inevitably counter, we need a firm set of boots that will keep us looking up and standing straight.
4. Change is inevitable. Pete begins his walk in his new white shoes. He ends it in his new–but wet–white shoes. While life often seems to repeat itself, the only consistent is change. Nothing ever stays the same. We don’t need to sweat the small stuff.
This recognition does not leave us powerless. It does not mean we can sit back and simply let things be. Rather, it reminds us of both our opportunities and our limitations. As Maya Angelous brilliantly put it, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
There’s a reason we remember certain childrens’ stories. There’s a reason we smile when we read them to our kids. There’s a reason we read them over and over. With simplicity and subtle wisdom, they capture what is universal and timeless.
What are your favorite children’s books? What lessons do they teach?
By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.
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