Sunday, December 09, 2007


    "The sanctuary of the human person is his emotional life, not his logical life. The Ark is with us in each person's emotional life, concealed behind the curtain. This aspect of the human being is protected from the eye of the cynic, the glance of the skeptic, the ridicule of the so-called practical and realistic man."

    "If I want to transmit my experiences, I have to transmit myself, my own heart."

    ~"Private Emotions" by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
I read a post today that spoke to me. It particularly speaks to those of us who do not seem to be particularly private people. There is an assumption that there is nothing we hold precious, nothing that is sacred to us, nothing that we do not mind sharing with the world at large. There is an idea that we are so totally and wholly open that one may take everything from us and more and we shall not mind. We have no concept of privacy; we have no concept of what is forbidden, of what is ours and should not be shared. This is not true. We have a very clear understanding of privacy and what is ours and no one else's. The question of what we share has to do with our comfort level and our different definitions of privacy.

As for me, I operate off of Rabbi Soloveitchik's credo. In the same way that he suggests that there was a time where people understood one another through silence, that observance was transmitted via a process of understanding and osmosis, but then explains that we must act differently now, that we cannot trust any longer to that process but must explain our relationship to God, so too do I feel. There was a time when it would have been enough to be silent. It was through silence that people would understand one another, would realize the depth of emotion others harbored for them; it was through silence that they understood love and they comprehended relationships that could not be adequately expressed in words.

But we have reached a time where remaining silent is not an option. We live in a society that operates based off of words; it is words that mean everything and it is difficult to understand without that medium. And so, in order to teach effectively, in order to model anything of importance, one must open oneself up, face the "eye of the cynic, the glance of the skeptic, the ridicule of the so-called practical and realistic man." For if "I want to transmit my experiences, I have to transmit myself, my own heart" and to do this by necessity means baring one's soul and allowing oneself to be seen.

As Rabbi Without a Cause explained:
    I share a lot of myself, talking to people about how I feel, personally. It’s an approach that works for me; I like being open, and I think people respond well to it. So I speak personally at funerals as well as at semachot; when discussing world events I frequently refer to my own personal feelings; when counseling or sitting by hospital beds I react from the heart. I cry during speeches from the bimah two or three times a year, when discussing sensitive issues. Before Yom Kippur I ask for mechilah openly, admitting the wrongs I can recall. I’ve discussed my own illnesses, frustrations and joys from the bimah. I “let it all hang out” as much as I feel I can. In a sense, much of my soul is communal property - and I’m all right with that.

I find that sentence particularly powerful: "In a sense, much of my soul is communal property - and I'm all right with that."

I do not do it in quite the same way; I am no Rabbi standing at the pulpit, but to some extent I act similarly. The ability to which one is able to be open depends on one's personality. There are some people for whom it is easier and others for whom it is harder. It is easier for me for the simple reason that regardless of what I write or say, I do not think anyone can really know me simply through this medium. You know parts of me, facets of me, but do you really know me? I do not think so. And so I do not feel as though I am truly risking anything, not in any way that can truly touch me.

And what is the worst that can happen to me? That one of you will read what I have written and destroy it, use it against me, somehow desire to hurt me? And perhaps you shall, and perhaps you will take pleasure in it! But in such a scenario, you are the weakling and the coward, for you take what was given over in honesty and use it to wound. So ought this to stop me? Ought I to be afraid of you, of a possibility of what may happen and what we hope shall never come to be! No! This is mine and it is of me, and you can take it as you will, but I refuse to be afraid of what you can do to me. The benefit outweighs the cost in this scenario, for I am certain that there are so many others who have the same questions as I do, or who have been through the same experiences, and it is necessary for people to know that they are not crazy but that the thoughts that flit through their minds are perfectly normal. And that it's possible to love God despite being angry with Him, despite doubting him, despite feeling sometimes like everything is worthless; through all this it is possible.

And why only of God? Think about people! People ought to know that they are respected and cared for, that there are so many of us who have days like theirs, times when we want to give up and fall apart, times when we are sad or blue for absolutely no reason, times when we want to snap other people's heads off, times when we've made a terrible mistake or done something cruel to someone whom we love and would never want to hurt. We are people, we are human and we do these things! And yet, being human, we consistently focus on negatives and on all that is wrong with us; we can only see what makes us imperfect and we are hard on ourselves and angry, and we do our utmost to bring ourselves down. Or as Meredith says in "Crash Into Me Part 2:"

    At the end of the day, the experience of practicing medicine bears little resemblance to the dream. We go into medicine because we want to save lives. We go into medicine because we want to do good. We go into medicine for the rush, for the high, for the ride. But what we remember, at the end of most days, are the losses. What we lie awake at night replaying is the pain we caused, the ills we couldn’t cure, the lives we ruined or failed to save. At the end of the day, the reality is nothing like we hope. The reality is, at the end of the day, more often than not, turned inside out and upside down.

But people won't know it if you don't tell them so. People need words; they need other people to explain their lives, to show how we are the same and connected. People need to share with other people, need to be comforted and need to realize that we're in this together in the most important way possible; we all share these hopes and dreams and we all lie awake at night, replaying the pain we've caused, the ills we couldn't cure and the lives we've ruined.

So that's what we do, some of us: we share. We share our worlds and our lives and try to give over the way we've felt and the way we feel so that others can see that they're not alone in this, that no matter where they are, there's someone there to see them and help them and tell them that it's okay, that whatever they are struggling with is reasonable and there's someone out here to understand and say okay, I see you. I see you and you matter and your struggle matters. And not only that, I see your good qualities and respect you for them, respect you for those that come innately to you and those you have struggled to perfect, but above all, I see you and know you as another human being and therefore as important.

Despite all this, despite the fact that some of us can share easily or don't seem to keep to the normal levels of privacy, that doesn't mean we never wish for privacy or don't understand what it means. We do. There are some things that are only for me to know, that are special for me and that's precisely why I won't write about them or share them. Or if I choose to share certain ideas, I will share them with particular people, assuming that it is clear that I chose these people and did not wish anyone else to know. But people operate based off of assumptions and believe that if you are a public figure in any capacity, others are entitled to know everything about you. Let's make it very clear: you are not entitled to know everything about me.

Everyone deserves some privacy.

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