The Virtues Of Wanting Something In Return

The young man strokes his hair and softly begins to relate a story that occurred to him minutes before he arrived at our Shabbos table. We lean in to listen to some fresh words of insight, hopeful that it will rise us out of our spiritual stupor.

He begins: “I was walking to your meal when I heard a guy saying, ‘It just ain’t right, it just ain’t right’, so for some reason I said to him, ‘ Yeah, it just ain’t right’. The man turned around and said, ‘You know, you give and you give to people, but when you need their help, they are nowhere to be found. What I do now is when I give, I give with all my heart, and then I don’t expect or care if they give anything back.’ ”

He ends his story and leans back, to let us drink it in, this concept of giving with one’s whole heart, without needing to receive. Could it answer, I wondered, some of my own feelings of hurt when I feel let down or abandoned when in need? 

A few days later, it was my turn to reach out. I contacted a few people, but help eluded me. I waited. Insecurity and frustration began to build. Is it because I’m just not giving without expecting in return? I wondered. Is it wrong that I want to receive? Did that random guy on the street have the solution? 

Then I thought about it more. About my relationship with the other people I was asking for help from. And it occurred to me that when you put yourself out there, when you send out a line for help, the phone rings. The wire vibrates. And whoever’s on the other end should pick up the call. Unless there’s something wrong with the connection.

That’s what I think the guy on the street didn’t want to see. He had something right, for sure. We shouldn’t give in order to receive. We shouldn’t give expecting something in return. To give because the recipient needs, despite ourselves, with one’s whole being, is beautiful,pure, and for sure a high level.

But in trying to martyr himself to a pure giver, he lost out on the relationship.  In trying to wrap himself up from future hurts and be the greater man, he became a silent partner in the crime of the greater collective schism.

A relationship, a real connection, is a whole different creature entirely. It’s a magnificent beast of you and me bound together into a new flow and rhythm.  When he’s reaching out and no one’s picking up the line, he shouldn’t retreat back into himself. He’s gotta go beyond himself, into the realm of connection. Into the realm of vibrations.

There, he would have an opportunity to search for the place where the wire snapped.  If there’s no vibration, something’s not being said.

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Maybe it’s a simple miscommunication; the other party doesn’t really understand the request. Maybe it’s an issue of trust; the other party doesn’t really believe his need, doesn’t feel comfortable with him, or worse yet, fears him.  It could be an issue of his understanding; that he doesn’t get what’s going on in their life as to why they can’t help him. Or it could be an issue of a still greater connection: Gd’s trying to direct him in a different way to go, and he’s not taking the bait. He’s not reading the signals.

In our contemporary glorification of the successfully brave amongst us, we understand that being vulnerable is scary. Who is willing to risk the painful burning feelings of disappointment, resentment, or shame? So we run from potential abandonment. We concoct schemes to prevent rejection. We put on shows that things are great and we don’t really need anyone and let’s all have fun on the ride. But then we also miss out on the chance to test the waters, to bring the relationship to the surface, to call up the connection. To see what this “us” is really made of.  To flow together into something greater.

Because in the end, if you’re in need, it would make me vibrate. I would feel that need and that gaping hole that needs to be filled, and if I can fill it, I would be overcome with a strong, instinctual impulse to give – Yes! I can do that! Here you go! Instead of heavy, guilty, sighing, affirmatives. Or silent retreats and denials. It would feel so good, so necessary, to purge myself of what I have that you need. That’s what a relationship is. It’s that you and me, we’re in this together, we’re one. You hurt, I hurt. I hurt, you hurt. Like Reb Arye Levin said so many years ago, “Doctor, my wife’s foot is hurting us”. We rock together. We feed each other. You vibrate, I vibrate . Unless there’s a break in the connection. Unless it’s heavenly ordained that this is not the way it’s intended to go.  There is a flow to this universe.

It’s not enough, we know that, the Facebook liking and comment-scatterings, to fill up our wholes of human frailties, inefficiencies, dreams, and desires. It’ s not enough to have a therapist to vent all of our deepest fears and needs.  We live in our protected MacBook worlds, yet we are destined to be conjoined to one another, knowing we only really rise to great heights if we depend on each other. So what is left to do is awkward and scary; saying the things that need to be said, asking the right questions, reaching out and asking for help and listening to the vibrations from everyone around us.

And then, when we don’t hear the vibrations, we come across a choice: a choice to do the harder thing. To examine what went wrong, what’s not being said. To scratch off the protective shield and reach out into the great abyss of the other.

I know it is there, in the space between me and you, where the potential for repairs in the connection lies.  I also am deeply familiar with the safer alternative; staying within but losing out on us.  It is in that space that I waver and question my next move. It is in that space that I seesaw from me to you, wanting to go beyond myself and fully connect. Wanting it so deeply yet biting my lip in deliberation. Deliberate silent anticipation of an external change that can only be facilitated by an internal hand reaching out.

So let’s vibrate. You, me, us, together. Let’s embrace neediness. Let’s hear the music of your soul come out.  If I can,  I’ll pick up the line.  And our music will be more than you and me separate could ever be.

Together, we will be glorious.