Do you know, that I spend most of my waking hours reminding myself, that we are the same. I overheard this conversation the other day.
“I invited you to the party the other day and you didn’t answer.”
“Oh, you really wanted to me to come, I thought you were just being nice.”
“Being nice, what do you mean I asked if you would come, and you didn’t respond.
“I didn’t think you really wanted me to come.”
“That’s crazy, why would I invite you if I didn’t want you to come? I thought you didn’t want to hang out with me. I felt bad.”
I sat there dumbfounded, as I usually do when I am reminded that we are all the same. Here I am, with 2 very cool people, that I would love to have lunch with any day and they both made up stories about how the other person really didn’t want to spend time with them. Again I am reminded of my own stories of rejection.
I have 2 friends, one that I love to hang out with and the other who loves to hang out with me. I notice that I reject them both equally. The one I love to hang out with, is constantly rejected because I don’t believe that she would ever want to hang out with me, so I reject her first. While spending time together, I will quickly mention that I am not sure if I can drive her home later. The truth is, I would love to drive her home but the fear that she doesn’t want to spend time with me comes up and so I fix it for her. I set it up so that she doesn’t have to go with me if she doesn’t want to. I send out mixed messages. I don’t want to spend time with her when in reality the truth is I love being with her.
The other, the one who loves to hang out with me gets rejected because I feel like they are coming on to strong and I need to “protect” myself from their love. You see, in the past I was rejected by this person and so now I build a wall to protect myself from being hurt again. If I accept the love he is showing me in the moment then I might get wrapped back up into a relationship where I will ultimately feel rejected again . So I put up a wall so that I don’t “get hurt”. A wall that I believe will protect me, but at the same time keeps me from experiencing the love in the moment.
Imagine for a moment, that I let all of that go. If the fear dissipated, I could just love people and they could love me back. And when and if I am feeling rejected I can remind myself of the truth, that we are all the same. They are not rejecting me rather they are rejecting a part of themselves.
There seems to come a point in our lives when we are posed with a question as to whether we should pass along information to people that we love. Is it our responsibility to “protect” someone from the truth? I remember when I was a teenager and my good friend was madly in love with a girl. The girl happened to be dating his best friend (unbeknownst to him). I had the information and I was unsure what the right thing to do was; tell him or let him continue on his delusional path. In the end, the decision was taken out of my hands. I shared the information with one of his other friends, who quickly called him up and told him the ugly truth. When he found out, he was devastated and he called me sobbing. At the time I wasn’t sure if I had done the right thing. I wondered if it was better that he found out sooner rather than later.
With children we are often protective as to what to tell them and what not to tell them. But I struggle with this as well, because I know full well that my children, and yours, know much more than we believe they do. So, when we are withholding information usually they know it anyway. When my husband and I decided we were separating, we didn’t tell anyone for a while. We decided in March, but didn’t share the decision with people for a while, especially the children. Yet, we could both tell that Eddie our 2 year old sensed something was wrong-so much so that I said to him, “I know you are feeling sad and you are not sure why, but you are right something is wrong and we are going to make it better”. Once I acknowledged his feelings, his crying stopped and he sat on my lap and we hugged each other.
I was at a course in Manhattan over a weekend, and there was a man there, who was observant of the Sabbath which meant that he was prohibited from using electricity. During lunch on Saturday, rather than going out to the restaurant with the rest of the members, he sat alone in the training room in the dark. I turned to the non-Jewish woman, who rents out the space, and said to her, “he won’t ask you, but maybe you could turn on the light for him.”
My friend overheard our conversation and asked us if our desire to help, was coming from a place of helping or controlling. If we are imposing our beliefs about what someone might want without asking them, we are in essence taking their control away. Who are we to do that?
On Saturday, my wonderful Great Aunt passed away and again we were faced with the question to tell or not to tell. My Grandmother is a vibrant, loving, fun-spirited woman who loved her sister very much. My Grandmother, my parents, my sister and I attended a family wedding in upstate New York over the weekend. The party went on till late into Saturday night and on Sunday morning we all trudged wearily into the hotel dining room for breakfast. Thank you’s and congratulations were being thrown around the room as we all prepared to pack up and leave for home. In all of the excitement none of us checked our cell phones. So, when we finally got the message, it was 24 hours since she had passed and my mother and I had the following conversation; “When are you going to tell her? now or after the 5 hour drive home?”
“ I am going to tell her now. she passed away yesterday. If I don’t tell her, she will call home and find out.”
“ Mom , maybe you should wait till you get home so that she doesn’t have to sit in the car with that sadness.”
And then I stopped to think about it. Who am I to control someone else’s grieving process? Why do we believe that once a person turns a certain age, it is our responsibility to protect them? What gives me the right to “protect” anyone? When I say that I am trying to protect you, what am I really saying? Am I saying that you can’t handle it? That I am stronger than you? When I am protecting you, am I taking away your power? What gives me the right to decide how you deal with something?
When I was about 2 years old, my father made a home movie of me walking around outside on these steps and, “Somebody Come and Play,” was the song he put to the movie. It was always a treat for me to watch. Growing up, every time my father would take out his projector and load the movie reels me and my sisters would jump up and down in excitement. First we would watch his animation a clay ball that morphed into a figure, walked across the screen swallowed a pencil and returned to his former existence as a solid mass of clay. Then ultimately the piece de resistance, me a 2 year old alone in my winter coat chasing a paper bag with this song in the background: Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and smile the smiles
And sing the song
It won't take long
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play my way
Somebody come and rhyme the rhymes
And laugh the laughs
It won't take time
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come with me and see the pleasure in the wind
Somebody see the time is getting late to begin
Somebody come and play
Somebody come and play today
Somebody come and be my friend
And watch the sun 'till it rains again
and we would sit around and watch it. I loved it. Yet as I got older, I noticed that the memory elicited a melancholy feeling. Me, alone at two years old, asking for someone to come and play with me. During my teenage years, it seemed that the isolation I was experiencing as a teenager was directly connected to me as a two year old. Well here I am 29 years later and let me tell you, that lonely feeling I had as a child and as a teenager, has not disappeared and I realized that maybe the loneliness, the sense of being separate from the rest of the world, is not real. Maybe like all other emotions, it is just a feeling that is arising in consciousness and maybe just maybe we are more connected than we believe.
I recently walked into my children’s school and saw a friend and as soon as I saw her I gave her a big smile and said to her will you be my friend? The other people in the room snickered as if to say, “How could you be so needy?” and my response was, “I only say what you feel.” Here we are living in a world that appears full of separation and loneliness and we are told that asking for love is wrong. “Don’t put yourself out there…You will get hurt.” But little do we realize that it is in the opportunity of getting hurt that we also have the opportunity of feeling connected. It is vulnerability that allows us to connect because when we are putting up a wall, there is nothing that can break through. When we allow ourselves the possibility of connection, there is a chance to be broken but an even greater opportunity to be opened. With this we can grow into the love that we already are. The loneliness falls away and we are left with a feeling of connectedness with the rest of the world whether alone or not.
I sit at the kitchen table with my sister who has just discovered her passion for painting. As she paints her latest masterpiece, a picture of Princess Tiana for her 3 year old daughter, I babble on about how my new business is not good enough. How crazy it is that I think I can sell a CD when I didn’t use a recording studio and I know nothing about sales and how clearly I am not good enough? She looks up from her painting and says to me, “why don’t you call Ishtobe (my wonderful friend who reminds me of my truth) because you sure are looking for a lot of approval in this moment.” I hear that and laugh because she is right and I am telling stories that only make me suffer. The spell of self deprecation is over for a moment and I can sit down and admire her artwork. As I do she turns to me and says, “What do you think? Is it good?” I laugh and say “Who’s looking for approval now?” She returns with a smile and says to me with a whining voice “no, this is different.” I coyly smile back and say “What do you think about it?” She huffs in frustration and we are both saved by the ringing of the telephone. As I speak to my friend, her cousin comes into the kitchen looks at her painting and says “Wow that is great, Vicky.” I smile and wave my hand in recognition of the compliment. She sighs and giggles. When I hang up I turn to her with a knowing glance and say, “So how did it feel?” She looks at me in confusion. “How did what feel?” “The compliment,” I remind her, “Josh said that he liked the painting. Isn’t that what you wanted?” She tries to explain, “well, yes, but your compliment means more. He doesn’t know about art.” So, I say to her “that’s cute. you thought that if you got approval, it would be great and then when you get it, you discredit it.” I start laughing because isn’t that how it always is? We constantly look for approval outside of ourselves and then when we get it we discount it. At least that’s what happens to me.
Ultimately when we are looking for approval from outside of ourselves, whatever we get will not be satisfying. If we live with the belief that we are not whole and complete; that we are not enough than no matter how much approval we receive we won’t be able to hear it. The irony is that when we do feel whole and complete we don’t need anyone’s approval.
Rabbi Esther Azar