It seems that lately I’ve been hearing a lot about the struggles of others, whether it’s from their own illness, the illness of a loved one, the loss of a house in a flood (or a storm), the loss of a job, the loss of a pregnancy, and even the loss of life. I’ve been listening and reading about how others deal with their fear, grief and disappointment. Most people talk (or write) about their anger, their feeling of helplessness, and in contrast, their desire to do something, anything. I’ve seen many people turn to prayer, to challah baking and to tzedaka campaigns, and to the opposite extreme, I’ve seen people fall into severe depression, paralyzed with the inability to move forward following a trauma. And, of course, I’ve seen many of my blogger friends turn to the pen or keyboard, expressing their tears verbally, perhaps as a mirror to a physical phenomenon.
Yesterday our neighborhood buried a child, a young boy about to join the army, whose life was cut brutally short in a seemingly incomprehensible tragedy. I didn’t know him, but it doesn’t matter. I heard the sirens of the ambulance, so loud as if it had arrived at my own home. In a panic, I called my neighbors to check if everyone was ok. Oddly, when everyone confirmed that they were fine, I didn’t feel that pervasive sense of relief. Perhaps it was because subconsciously I knew that something was still wrong, or perhaps it’s because I’m just numb.
I wish I could feel that strong torrent of emotions described by so many of my peers, or to accept G-d’s decisions with that calm understanding beheld by my friends who are truly of pure heart. And yet, it’s not that I reject the events of the world, it’s that I simply fail to understand them, no matter how hard I try. I do pursue some sort of tikkun, through my daily prayers, through my challah baking, through my offers of kindness to those in need – anything that will, perhaps, reverse the horrible fates that seems to have been already set in motion, or to cement the good ones on their noble trajectory. But I think I am doing these things because of the numbness. Because of the lack of alternatives. Because crying or staying in bed just doesn’t help.
I find it hard to relate to my own struggles and happy times, as I’ve noticed that I continually put my personal circumstances into the context of those around me. Yes, it’s annoying to have a sick child home on day that I should be working. But how can I complain, when so many of my friends are begging for children? It’s not fun to shlep 3 hours each way to work, but how can I complain when so many people that I know are searching for a new position? I’m too tired to clean the house at the end of the day, but hey, at least our house is still standing, and it’s dry, right?
My wise husband recently pointed out that just because others are struggling more than we are, doesn’t mean our personal trials aren’t important. And he was right. But one of my friends wrote yesterday about how in our neighborhood, a neighbor’s struggles become your own, their happiness becomes yours. And that is right as well.
And so it is that I find myself struggling with burdens that aren’t truly my own, feeling numb from all that’s going on, bone-tired from working hard, volunteering hard, and raising children, and yet, feeling inadequate because no matter what I do, it’s just not enough. I can’t stop the plague of illness, I can’t prevent my friends’ car troubles, children’s behavioral issues or financial troubles. I’m lucky I can manage my own. And yet, somehow, this small victory doesn’t make me feel better, it just makes me feel numb.