23 Stand Tall
I was filled with doubts and worries until my grandfather told me to stand tall.
It was no wonder I wasn't looking forward to entering ninth grade. High school is well known for being a battleground, where everyone seems to be going through awkward physical changes, emotional mood swings, and low self-esteem. For me, height was my trouble.
I had always felt insecure and out of place as one of the taller members of my class in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, standing a head above the other girls and stooping at the back of the line to avoid sticking out .
I especially hated being around large groups of people, like during the social hour after services at my synagogue . Once the prayers were finished, I would leave as quickly as possible so I could avoid another well-meaning congregant squealing,"Ruthie!Look how tall you're getting!"Ugh.
My grandfather would watch me grow increasingly uncomfortable, but he didn't laugh at my self-consciousness or try to console me. Instead, he would admonish me.
Stand straight and tall, he'd say, as I unsuccessfully tried to shrink myself.
And each time, I would sheepishly comply . Even at age 15, I understood that his advice was about more than just feet and inches.
My grandfather grew up in war-torn Europe. When German soldiers occupied his hometown, the beautiful and thriving city of Tarnow, Poland,he defied them and eventually wound up joining the Soviet army to fight for his country's freedom. "Stand straight, stand tall," meant something else back then.
I trusted my grandfather more than anyone else in my childhood. And whenever I was afraid of something, he would tell me stories of his life.
After the war, he boarded a boat for America, and on January 27,1947, he stepped onto the dock of Pier 86 in Manhattan. He was hungry and suffering from sickness. All alone in a new country, he was frightened about his future.
Still, he marched head-on into the hustle and bustle of the streets of New York. Soon he met other European immigrants, each of them trying to find his or her own way.
If they could do it, why couldn't he? "Stand straight, stand tall," he would remind himself.
Thanks to the help of a loyal and trusting friend, my grandfather acquired a jewelry booth on Canal Street, at that time the heart of the busy diamond district in New York City. He once told me how nervous he was on that first day of work. He was not only trying to learn this tough new business, but also a new language.
To his surprise, the men in the neighboring booths—who could have taken advantage of him—offered their help and advice. Within months, my grandfather was commanding his spot behind the counter, selling diamonds and all kinds of cultured pearls as if he'd been doing it his whole life.
Stand straight. Stand tall.
In later years, my grandfather would escort both my mother and her sister down the aisle at their weddings. As he stood with each of them beneath the chuppah , he thought about their new beginnings, and of the adventures and challenges they would experience together. He also thought about the children who would one day carry on his family name.
I am so proud to be one of those children. Listening to my grandfather's remarkable experiences has changed the way I view my own life.
His advice to me has become much more than a challenge to improve my posture. It tells me to be proud of who I am.
Stand straight, stand tall, my grandfather told me.
And I do.
(By Ruthie Just Braffman)