By Rivka Perlman

February 9, 2012

Loneliness Part 2: (Settle in for a long read)

 

After writing “Loneliness,” the comments that I got made me realize that I hadn’t done the topic justice. Now, a few days later, and with your feedback, a few things are apparent to me.

I originally wrote about loneliness for a simple reason: it needed to be said. If we’re going to grow, there’s no topic that we can shy away from. Talking about it, is the beginning of the healing.

Here, I’m writing less about our existential alone-ness and more about our cultural loneliness.

People have always struggled. But in our day, one of the biggest things that plagues us is the idea of perfection. Years ago when times were tougher, people had no choice but to be real with each other. If your kid cried all night, the neighbors could hear. If you were sick, the whole community knew. If you went gray , you went gray. And if you were poor, then you were poor.

Nowadays we live with facades. We have layers and layers of fabric and brick¬† and credit cards and surgery and photo shop and wigs and facebook¬† pages to represent us. All of these have value and I’m ¬†grateful that we live in easier times. But the result is that we’re faced constantly with the challenge of being real.

I don’t think we even know any more what we care about and what society cares about. It’s all enmeshed in a debilitating cycle.

I ask myself this silly question. Why do I need to wear a new outfit each day? If status quo (like in some parts of Europe) was that the same skirt and top were good for two days, wouldn’t I do that? So when I say “I’m a creative dresser,” maybe I am. But maybe I’m also just keeping up with some nonsensical expectation.

That’s a silly question, having no bearing on anything important, but what about important things? It seems like as a culture we’re setting the bar higher and higher and everyone is standing on tippie toes and bending backwards to reach it. This goes for physical ammenties and also for more core issues.

It’s like we think that we all have to be cheerful and well adjusted and non medicated, with perfect marraiges and no health issues with loads of money, ¬†perfect looks and plenty of time to volunteer.

That is not a realistic expectation. And it’s our undoing. Because we’re not supposed to be perfect! (Whatever that is!) For religious people, ironically, I think this problem may be even more invasive.

The Torah teaches us how to lead the perfect life. (Yes, I used the word perfect.) And keeping the Torah, means we’re aware of those ideals. We’re living noble lives full of purpose and meaning. I think that subconciously as a community we shy away from sharing too much because it feels like we’re not being successful in living Torah lives.

That’s so sad. I know that’s not what Hashem had in mind when He sent us challenges. He wants us to grow from them. To use them to live Torah vibrantly and to bring closeness between man and man. Like Rabbi Akiva answered the Roman general who asked “if your G-d can do anything, why are some people poor?” “To give the world a chance to do kindness.”

So lets not confuse a beautiful religious life with a life that has no problems. Being human means having challenges.

                                                                                                                                                                                     

Real is in. We all know real when we see it – and we love it. The online world is a messy mix of the great and the rotton, but one thing is for sure, people are sharing. They’re posting their feelings, asking for support and saying what their excited about. Can we do that in person? ¬†We want to share but I think we end up instead, with the status quo of protecting our persona.

It seems to me that that’s where a lot of these superficial interactions come from. Because we can’t talk about what we really need to talk about. The forclosure notice, the worry, the restlessness, the anxiety, the being overwhelmed, the feeling uneasy, the wanting inspiration, the doubting, and the personal victories.

All these we don’t talk freely about. So whats left? Two souls poised to meet and connect, rebuffed by the ego’s unwillingness to let its gaurd down.

But I think we can do better. If we look at Jewish life we see right away that the Torah doesn’t want us to be alone. G-d has in mind that we share our lives with each other. We go to shul, have weddings and Bar Mitzvahs and chavrusas (learning partners) and so many more events that according to Jewish Law need people present.

Shiva,¬† my friend pointed out is the best example of that. Just when you want to crawl in a hole, the Torah says “no, you have to be with people.” And more; shiva is about keeping it real. If you don’t feel like talking, then a visitor cannot start a conversation. How you look is a non issue – the mirrors are covered. And even if its tough, you stay with it for all 7 days.

So clearly, we have  to be together. To function as a nation and as the unit that we are. We need each other!

In a way its very cool to be alone. To be accountable to noone, to do your own thing, to live a spiritual life up on a moutain top; but uh uh, that would NOT be good for us.

We need to fight isolation  like we fight gravity with every step we take. The only way we move forward is by exerting effort, lifting our feet and reaching for more. We need this. We need to be real with each other and not just online but face to face where one heart meets the next.

                                                                                                                                           

Let’s be practical for a minute though. Let’s say I’m a private person. ¬†I don’t want to share with everyone. And ¬†lets say the truth; you can’t share with everyone. It’s appropriate to be discerning in your trust. Thinking that we can just spill our hearts ¬†because its a lovely concept has the same problem as communism. It misses the fact that people are people.

Not just that, but complaining about a society doesn’t change it. We’ll still leave this conversation facing all those expectations that we spoke about. The pressure to look good and conform is a fact of modern life.

So what can we do?

First, be honest. The next time someone asks you how you’re doing, stretch, and share a little more. See what happens. Sometimes I do this and wait. If the person is responsive,we have a meaningful conversation and often, I’m energized for hours after. We both are. If the person is not responsive, then I give them the best smile I have hoping to ¬†spread connection that way. Please try this and send me your stories. I promise you’ll have some to tell!

Second, learn to ask the right questions. If you want to share someone’s world you have to really care. The questions we usually ask;¬†“How are you? Whats up?”¬†¬†just won’t get us there.

Lets say you see someone you know and you ask “How are you?” They give you an honest answer, “Tired.” Now there’s someone reaching out!

Don’t miss the opportunity and answer “awwww” or even “that’s rough.” Listen to them. Stop and share their tiredness. You can ask ¬†“Did you get sleep? Do you want to talk about it? Don’t give advice or solutions but move into their space with them for a moment. Your presence will give them energy!

Let’s say someone tells you they started a new job.

Typical conversation:”Oh, how nice, where? Oh, thats nice.”

No! It’s not nice!

How about a response like,”Are you happy with it?” Is this what you were looking for?” What skills do you get to use in the job?” “How’s the adjustment?” Whats the company culture like?” “Is this where you want to be?””How does this fit in with your plans?” “What keeps you motivated?”

Now thats nice! That’s¬†a conversation. That’s when we give permission to each other to be real and start living with togetherness instead of alone-ness.

Being real is not just a 60’s throwback concept of freedom. Its creating a safe space in our world where we can be heard, where we can grow authentically. It’s not just about you having freedom to share but also letting your neighbor know that they can share without fear of judgement.

Next, challenge the status quo. Does my wedding need to have 400 people at a sit down dinner? Can I afford it? Is it what Hashem wants? Does my wig need to be this expensive? Do I give myself the freedom to be who I really am? Have I sat down to make a personal mission statement or am I swept away by whatever cause is in fashion? What is real for me and am I living my authetic truth?

When our kids started coming home at 5:00, we realized that we had no family time left. The younger ones came home earlier but didn’t have me available becauseI was busy with carpool. After supper, bedtime came quickly for the younger ones and the older one spent the night doing homework.

I remember the freedom when we realized, “We are the parents. We get to make the decisions. It doesn’t have to be like this.”And for the next, magical two years we homeschooled our six older kids. Thank Hashem, it was the best decision ever.

My husband is my hero. Twelve years ago he looked at his life and said, “I don’t want to be a Rabbi.” (Gasp!) “That’s not really me.” He looked inside himself and found that he was more comfortable being with the people and didn’t want a podium or a pedestal. With that decision our life took a 180.

He had the courage to be real, even in the face of people who thought he was doing the wrong thing.

Neither of these decisions may speak to you, that’s ok. Whats important is that¬†you¬†ask your questions.

 

Those are my thoughts for today. I’m ending this post feeling like once again there’s so much more to say. I worry that I brought up some topics that can spark negative talk about ourPeople. And while I cherish honesty, I don’t want to be the cause of Lashon Hara, (gossip). So I ask for your feedback, but please only that it be contstructive.

We’re an amazing people. Like the student who gets an A- but still gets told they can do better – because they can. There is so much goodness in the Jewish people and still , there’s more to work on. I ask Hashem that He bless my words and that they reach the hearts of my dear friends in the way they were intended.

 

 

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