Since I’ve come to Hamilton, my life has been about people – the people I left behind whom I miss intently, the people who are here whom I get to see a lot more of, the people I am meeting, both professionally and personally, but most of all the people I depend on and those who depend on me. I never wanted to be independent. I am certain I can be, mind – there are many things I can do, and I know how to ask for help should I need it.
However, I think for cultural and emotional and spiritual and many other reasons, I am not as into independence as the average North American. I love the feeling of being a member of a group, of taking care of the people in it and of being taken care of. I want my grumbles to be heard as requests for help and I want to spontaneously help those around me and have that help welcomed. This is a woven tapestry idea, each thread intermingling with many others, contributing just a tiny but utterly necessary bit to the overall picture. It’s also a Jewish idea – one of the reasons we don’t count Jews, for example is because the oneness, the connectedness of the community is what is important, rather than the number of individuals. (That’s right, – we don’t count Jews because all Jews count. I appreciate religious puns.)
Yes, I know it’s important not be clingy and dependent, but like everything else, this is a balance situation. It’s important to be open to support and assistance too, both giving and receiving it. When I work as hard as I can, I don’t do so to be successful or secure. I do so because I know there are people depending on me and needing me to earn a bit more. When I do the dishes, I don’t do so because the dirt bothers me or because I’m worried about getting sick, I do so because the dirt bothers people in my family and I’m worried about them being sick. Sometimes, this attitude leads to expectations that aren’t and can’t be met. What happens when a friend is more independent that I am? The possibilities for us to hurt each other are so many!
I am trying to participate in a comfortable group evening, and she is trying to have some quiet reading time alone. I am appreciating a kitchen where people can bump into each other and pass things, and he is wishing for enough space to get work done without people too close. I am hoping for some help to come with a heavy task and she is wondering why, if I want help, I don’t ask for it. I am offering comfort during a sad situation and he is trying to get some private time to deal with his sadness.
This is the challenge this Elul and always – how do I give people the privacy they need while retaining my need for interdependence and community? I don’t want to become so good at giving others space that I forget to give them love! On the other hand, I don’t want to hurt anyone through unwanted attention or assistance. I work at it – sometimes leaving people be, sometimes working to increase closeness, sometimes finding my own space, sometimes building connection with those who appreciate it. I try to use humour and faith, love and communication to get though. I try to count on others and let them count on me and yet be strong enough to be counted. Sometimes, it feels like an impossibly narrow path to walk. I remember the song, and, at the least, try to walk it without fear.