This is the first post of my very first blog. Most of you who read this probably know me already, so I don’t have to do a lot of introduction. I’m a Reconstructionist rabbi and a cantor; I live with my husband, Spencer Gill, and two cute dogs in Virginia Beach, VA, and lead a little congregation, Tidewater Chavurah, with no building but nice folks. I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for years.
Lately there have been a few people in my life who have suffered physical trauma or emotional pain and didn’t let on until they’d been suffering quite a while. When I asked, “Why didn’t you let me know?” they gave the exact same response: “I didn’t want to bother you.” This would be followed by an exasperated exhalation on my part and a real or virtual hug.
I used to be like that, not wanting to bother people with my problems. Then Spencer contracted flesh-eating bacteria during a beach vacation in 2008 and almost lost part of a leg. All help extended was gratefully accepted: from airport personnel while getting him home to Los Angeles, from friends who sat with me into the night when he had surgery, from neighbors offering dog walks. When Spencer’s arrival home from the hospital coincided with the beginning of the High Holidays and I had to be at the temple when I was cantor, I reached out. Because almost all our friends were not only Jews but shulgoing Jews, I got my parents to drive out from Arizona to hang with Spencer over Rosh Hashanah. For erev Yom Kippur, Spencer’s best bud overcame all his phobias (illness, caretaking, neediness) to spend the evening in our condo, and the next day an Orange County pal gave up temple to stay for like ten hours. When I got home that night to break the fast, she greeted me with a plate of warm brisket. From then on, I made two promises: I would give help when asked, and I would ask for help as needed.
So many people can’t do the latter. Has it been ever thus, that a high proportion of folks think it unseemly to ask for as little as a shoulder to cry on (while a smaller number not only need but demand rescue on a regular basis)? Is the unwillingness to reach out for support exacerbated in some way by the 24-hour news cycle and social media; do we see footage of wildfires and mass murders and Aleppo and decide our problems don’t matter? Has asking for help become institutionalized? (“Please send healing prayers on behalf of Ploni ben Ploni…” “Please sign up for the temple’s Bikur Cholim committee.” “Don’t worry, my insurance will handle it.”) Will the next generation, with its members’ reported reluctance to engage in face-to-face conversation, be able to give hugs, let alone receive them?
Most of us, as we grew up, were exposed to the John Donne poem that begins, “No man is an island, entire of itself,” and the West African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” Both are wise sayings and should be taken to heart, but they don’t go far enough to encourage us to reach out to others when we’re in need. Accordingly, I invite you to turn to the words of that noted young philosopher Demi Lovato, who said, “The best advice I can give to anyone going through a rough patch is to never be afraid to ask for help.” (Thank you, Google and goodreads.com.) You don’t have to have gone through drug addiction and rehab to take that advice, either. Take it whenever you need a hot meal, a word of praise, a bear hug. If you run out of people to bother, by all means bother me.