I offer her so many things in the small physical space of three feet that separates us.
My face, morphed into a visage of concerned concentration, that assures her, “ I want to listen to you.”
My stare, with a fist upon my chin, propped up, indicating, “I’m here for you. I’m here all day. Take your time.”
And my laughter, which signifies to her and me that we’re building something here. We’re going beyond the present moment to some glorious future together. Let’s concoct something delicious from the strange twists and turns of our lives. Let’s roll it up and dunk it in sauce and then keep on talking.
I’m aware now of the preciousness of this ability, to be in someone’s home, in someone’s space, to connect. To share.
Growing up, they told me to think big. And bigger. The world is your oyster. Go anywhere. Do anything. The more interesting and far off, the better. So we studied and planned for the day that we would Live the American Dream and Leave. And Travel. To go to college- “Anywhere!” they repeated –“Go anywhere!” And then once in college, a semester abroad; Ethiopia, Italy, Japan… the places my friends found themselves were exotically different and soon, after a couple of years, Facebook began to peer into our lives and we were able to be front seat witnesses to the grand adventures others were taking.
Technology allowed us to go farther. Farther into the possibilities of being better. Smarter. More connected. So we could calculate life and our options even more.
But they forget to tell us something.
They forgot to tell us what it would be like, to live in a far off country or a plane-ride-away city, without any of those familiars from your lives growing up, with a new baby that is your own, and no support system to fall back upon, no Sundays at Grandma’s or regular, casual, comforting get togethers with those who knew you Way Back When.
They neglected to educate us on what it would feel like to navigate between those dreams that were your goal, your lifeblood, and your identity, and the inner turmoil that travel and change and distance wreaks upon the soul. They forgot to mention that building a life involves planting roots and not just walls. That relationships are the real lifeblood for our emotional sense of fulfillment that no achievement can surpass.
“Perfectionism” diagnoses the psychologist one day, and I wonder: Could perfectionism just be another word for a neurosis that arises from failing to address the underlying thirst of my being for more: more depth, more nurture, more relationships that surround me and fill me and guide me? Maybe I can only find ultimate happiness in the space between us.
The click of the mouse gives me something, a slight drip of the longing for incredible community,acceptance, and belonging. But no Facebook likes or messages can ask me how I’m doing and then just sit there and watch me. And watch me think. And observe as I stare off into space. And wax poetry about my jumbled words as I try to put it all together. Because no one sat with me long enough to get into the unique rhythm of my inner life.
They forgot to inform us that there are no easy answers. You cannot give up on your mission and your dreams, but you cannot forget your past because you crave it every day and you miss those familiar and grounding roots constantly.
So you are left with the Guidebook they never gave you: the intent to create the future now.
We must mourn for that which we have left behind. That we cannot Have It All, ever. And then we must turn around and build anew.
So this is the year, isn’t it? It’s a hakhel year . It’s time to gather, to come together.
The year to create meaningful connections through our past and present through, of course, technology, but even more so, it’s the year to pick up the phone and make a time to meet. To say, this year, I’ll build my life with you in person.
Because though we travel and we live far apart from family and friends, we can’t resign ourselves to solely preserving relationships through phone lines, text messages, and Skypeing. That is important. But we must also realize that when we choose to Travel and Leave, we chose to make a commitment to build roots elsewhere. To find new people to share our day to day physical lives with. And that means breaking down the walls we build in communities and homes, to sit. And talk. And listen. (And laugh).
They told me for so long that to do big things would change the world. So many years later, I realize constantly that it’s the small things that I crave. Those small words, spoken, slowly, in the right, relaxed setting, in person, hold immense power. Ideas start formulating, plans change. Worlds collide. Perspectives shifts. Reality mutates. Invisible bonds form. What can be said in person never finds it’s place over social media. Never reaches its climax of possibility and change. It’s scary to shut off our computers and walk into homes. It’s inefficient and awkward. But it’s everything. Things lit up inside and ideas are born that wouldn’t be touched otherwise.
Slow, intimate bonding is so essential to my nature and yet so antithetical to my conditioning:
“Must Not Waste Time” my brain constantly repeats to nerves, as they start to jingle unhappily if I stop too long in one place.
“Must Have a Plan” my muscles insist to my spinal fluid, as I look around furtively for the next thing to accomplish.
“Must Not Feel Awkward”, my texting fingers scream when I find myself around others I don’t know so deeply.
But maybe, this year, I could ease up a bit. I could carve out spaces to sit and share and realize that through the nourishment of companionship, through the submission of self to the time of sacred speech, we receive such stamina and inspiration to go back into our accomplishing worlds with greater vigor and clarity than we ever could have had previously. Maybe this year I could really start digging roots, here. In the physical walls and the physical paths that surround me.
Shabbat isn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong; Shabbat is amazing and a great gift to the world and an incredible opportunity. But for me at least, it’s also stressful. It’s a lot of work and a lot of running around with little down time to recharge and shine from all points inside. It’s not enough for the connection I’m searching for. I want you, during the week as well.
I’m talking afternoon siestas, while the hours whittle away, munching on deliciously healthy snacks and soul warming soup with a pal while our kids run around the house. I’m speaking about night time parties with close friends, sipping wine and listening to music and reminiscing about our latest adventures and past missteps. I’m thinking soft mornings ingesting invigorating smoothies and giving each other pre-day pep talks.
And within my walls-
I’m fantasizing about relaxing within the chaos of childrearing. Actually stopping and resting on the couch as children scamper around. Finding something to calm, center, and nourish me during the day without using Facebook as an addictive escape, hiding the phone behind my back so my girls don’t see my fix.
And deeper still-
Carving out space to drink tea and share inspiration and insights in the oh-so-short-and-so diffficult-to-embrace-the-quiet-of-the-night evenings with my spouse.
And silently within-
Allowing my bones to relax into my being and grow a garden of radical amazement and encouragement within the walls of my mind. To listen more and more to the small, still voice that is there to guide me.
Realizing that Gd is sitting on His Holy Throne waiting for me to speak to Him, if only I opened myself up in my last moments of consciousness at night and in the wild rush of the morning scramble, to see Him behind my worries and scattered thoughts, to offer a few words.
This is all what it means to gather, doesn’t it? To break through the physical boundaries that separate us from each other, to get to the bonded essence of it all.
The furthest distance I can travel is not, it turns out, to an exquisitely prestigious university or some far off and exotically different country, but between us. Because there, the distance is infinite. To the depths of the soul and back.
So this hakhel year, I want to build a real, in person community like I always imagined. . To talk. To laugh. And there, in the space of three feet between us, to change the world, together.