From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul

Diamonds Polished Here

Life will either grind you down or polish you up, and which it does is your choice.

Roger Walsh

Although I gave up my rabbinic pulpit in 1959 to practice psychiatry, the lore, wisdom and ethical beliefs that imbue my family mythology and formed my growing years have never left me.

As a psychiatrist, I specialize in treating addiction. Twenty-five years ago I founded The Gateway Rehabilitation System in Pittsburgh. I am often asked whether any particular treatment modality is employed at Gateway. I always answer that our strength lies in our belief in the inherent goodness of every client. This quality is not always easy to recognize in a person who has led a destructive lifestyle for decades, someone whose use of alcohol or drugs has caused great suffering for others. But in all my years of treating illnesses of the heart and soul, this belief has never failed me; each individual’s integrity is always there, lurking right beneath the surface, eager to emerge.

A story occurs to me of a man named Avi. I first met him while I was in Tel Aviv speaking before a group of exconvicts in recovery who were coming into our Israeli rehabilitation program, a sister home to Gateway. When I began to speak of self-esteem, this man interrupted me. “How can you talk to us of this? I’ve been a thief since I was eight. When I’m out of prison I can’t find work, and my family doesn’t want to see me.”

I stopped him and asked if he’d passed by a jewelry store lately. “Consider the diamonds in the window,” I said. “Try and think what they look like when they come out of the mine—lumps of dirty stone. It takes a person who understands the diamond to take the shapeless mound and bring out its intrinsic beauty. That’s what we do here; we look for the diamond in everyone. We help the soul’s beauty come to the surface, we polish it until it gleams.” I looked at Avi, all disheveled and hunched over, nearly hiding in his seat, and said, “You’re like that dirtcovered stone, and our business is to find the diamond within and polish it until it glows.”

Two years passed. Avi had graduated from the treatment center, and when the following event took place he had already completed his stay in the halfway house and was integrated into the community, working in construction. One day Annette, who manages the halfway house, received a call from a family whose elderly matriarch had died. They wanted to donate her furniture to the halfway house. Annette called Avi and asked him to pick up the furniture, which he willingly agreed to do. When he went to pick it up, he saw that it wasn’t worth saving but not wanting to insult the family, he hauled it anyway.

While Avi was laboring to carry the shabby sofa up the stairs to the halfway house, an envelope fell from the cushions. After getting the couch inside, Avi retrieved the envelope, in which he found five thousand shekels (about seventeen hundred dollars). Now Avi, remember, had served time in prison for burglary. When he was doing drugs he would have broken into a home for twenty dollars. But now Avi called Annette and told her about the envelope. Annette said it must be reported to the family.

The family was so gratified by Annette’s and Avi’s honesty that they told her to keep the money for the halfway house. As a result, the halfway house was able to buy one more bed and provide room for one more guest, creating another opportunity for recovery. And Avi wasn’t a crook anymore.

Avi relayed this story to me in a letter. He wrote, “When I used drugs I would get a high for a very short time, and when the high wore off I felt terrible, worse than before. It’s been three months since I found that money and every time I think of what I did, I feel good all over again. How different a feeling than a temporary fix.”

Another year went by and I returned to that halfway house where Avi’s good deed had set off a chain of events, which led to, among other things, an extra bed. There was a sign hanging above the entry. It read: DIAMONDS POLISHED HERE.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

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