HomeOctober 2011The Luckiest People in the World

The Luckiest People in the World

Someone close to me is having terrible, invasive oral surgeries that include temporary disfigurement and an almost paralyzing fear of the financial burden that is, apparently, part and parcel of a campaign to retain her teeth.  She is a single working woman with a modest income and has already borrowed thousands of dollars toward the aforementioned aim.  And even after consulting all of the local specialists, they cannot offer her guarantees on the success of the treatment.
I don’t know what my friend’s ache-threshold is, but at one point she appeared to have gone nearly mad from the post-surgery trauma, discomfort, swelling and, yes, pain.  She hadn’t shared these worries with anyone, because, frankly, she didn’t feel close enough to anyone else who might wish to help shoulder the burden of her difficulties.  This startling truth disturbed me greatly even as I lit my Sabbath candles just moments after speaking with her.  I can now admit that I feared she might hurt herself in desperation if she couldn’t find relief, and, consequently, my day of rest was not so restful.  I am happy to report that she is feeling better, and the antibiotics are beginning to do their job.
In another odd twist on the state of isolation, my next door neighbor hasn’t spoken with his sister in five years, and he hoped to break the terrible silence just before the holidays.  What was his greatest fear?  That she would rehash the same argument regarding an inheritance claim, and they would, as before, allow the dispute to erase a lifetime of memories and shared history that they had enjoyed until the ugly episode did its magic.
Taking a page out of the daily amidah prayer (18 Blessings/Shmonah Esreh), he swallowed his pride and asked God to make his “soul as low as the dust” and resist the urge to defend his position or explain the “error” of his sister’s thinking.  Thus prepared for any reaction including indignation or rage, he called and told her he missed her and hoped that the year ahead would be good for her and her family.  After a few moments of pregnant silence, she responded, “I would like that too.  Let’s stay in touch.”
The pledge of “staying in touch” should never be a conversation ender but, rather, a solemn promise to keep the juices of human interaction flowing.  How many times have we been guilty of rolling our eyes at a Caller ID screen and choosing not to answer, convincing ourselves that we occupy a higher rung on the economic, social, accomplishment or coolness ladder?  The barista who prepares our morning cup of java is for many folks today, the closest relationship they have for flesh-pressing, human interaction.
Case in point: Drinking coffee with my husband before starting our respective work days has become an ironclad ritual in our young marriage.  If one of us has to be out at seven, I put the kettle on at 5:50.  But starting the day without “connection” is rarely an option and, admittedly, it took me time to comprehend the inherent importance of this seemingly innocuous activity.  Today I am even more protective of the custom than he is!  His first wife died after a prolonged illness, and Ronney has patiently begun to teach me about the delicacy and delight to be found in moments that are quiet and partner-centric.   Silence has varying qualities and the calm that comes from acceptance, and gratitude is a far cry from a silence that stems from hostility and/or sadness.
We live in a tumultuous world that has grown smaller by the moment, thanks to an internet that has done little toward bringing people closer together in the manner of small towns.  Agoraphobia – a documented disorder – has become an acceptable and oftentimes preferred way of life!  Loneliness is a steady companion for so, so many in a world that celebrates independence and achievement and sneers at co-reliance.
I’m proud to admit that I’ve recently converted without giving up my Orthodox Judaism!  I’ve joined the Temple of Mutual-Dependence & Chance-Taking and can firmly attest that the God of Self-Rule and Independent Problem Solving is a false god, the Baal of our generation.
Keeping with the tenets of my faith, I propose the following life-altering commandments:
The reestablishment of kaffee klatches, cousins’ clubs, family vacations and girls/boys nights out; non-negotiable minimum-of-three-nights-per-week 7 o’clock family dinner hour, the neo-family prerequisite and a “technology-free” event.  No cell phones, no Blackberrys, no iPods.  Nothing but the sound of clinking cutlery and intermittent reports of how everyone’s day went and celebrating achievement and expressing compassion in the lives of those we love; individual “cooking” night where one member of the clan gets to shop, prepare and serve the meal of his choice at one of the three aforementioned technology-free dinners!
(I am certain that this is the grandest way to further reduce the dimensions of our planet to the size of a wooden picnic table surrounded by fir trees and the sounds of a rippling brook.)
Every day offers abundant opportunity to (re)create and (re)write our lives in a manner that may not have been included in our childhood agendas.  At the advent of this New Year, it is my fervent prayer that each of us is to greet one another with warm smiles and either stated or tacit invitations to learn more about each other.  And that we learn to love the quiet that heart-connecting moments of listening to our fellow man will undoubtedly provide.

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