Thursday, November 14, 2013

Too heavy

"A community is too heavy to carry alone."
Around the perimeter of the track at the JCC, there is a series of colorful posters designed to give the walkers and runners something to think about (or talk about, if they are walking with someone else).  This particular poster keeps catching my eye. The image is vivid and a bit disconcerting, but the words touch me even more.  "A community is too heavy to carry alone."

This quote is from a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy (the last book of the Torah) called Deuteronomy Rabbah. Deuteronomy is mainly a summary of the first four books of the Torah, and in this part, Moses is discussing (actually, complaining) how difficult it was to manage the Children of Israel by himself.

In fact, it reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the Torah:  how Moses' father-in-law Jethro (who wasn't even Jewish) recommended that Moses get some help because doing everything for the Children of Israel by himself was too much even for Moses. I wrote about this in a blog post here.

Not only is a community too heavy to carry alone, a family is also too heavy to carry alone. A child is too heavy to carry alone. Even a single person living without a child needs other people to enrich his or her life. 

One big problem in the U.S. is the value of rugged individualism, the ideal of "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps." Not only are people "supposed" to take care of themselves and their families with no outside help, a corollary to that supposition is that "self as the most important thing." The idea "if it doesn't affect me or my family, I just don't care." These values (if you can call them values) have led to a huge divide between rich and poor, as well as huge divide between our two political parties. The idea that we, as a nation, need to take care of each other, and if we have a lot, we need to give a bit more, and if we have little, we can receive help. Somehow the communal values have been lost.

One of my favorite sayings is "it takes a village to raise a child," and I am constantly amazed at how it really does!  When J was small, I gratefully turned him over to his daycare provider several days a week so I could get some things done, and so he could have wonderful experiences that I was unable to provide. During his elementary school years, while I was working part-time, the after-school care program allowed me to work as he was happily playing, learning to play an instrument, practicing his cooking skills, singing and dancing in a play, or doing sports. During middle school, when I was working almost full-time, I often had to call on other parents to pick him up from school when I was running late, or when school closed early. And now that I'm the one at home, other parents call on me to help pick up kids who missed the bus, or to let in the washing machine repair man. It really does take a village of people to make it all work.

Motherhood, especially when kids are little, can be so isolating. Sometimes it's hard to ask for help. Sometimes you feel like you are supposed to do it all by yourself - and what's wrong with you if you can't?  Now-a-days, moms are supposed to work, take care of the kids and the house, get great meals on the table, stay slim and fit and sexy, and do lots of crafts (a la Pinterest)! It's impossible. And it's really impossible without a village, a community, to put the pieces together.

I took another look at this poster, and I realized there is something fundamentally wrong with it. It talks about community, but there are no images representing people (except for the hands): community is represented by buildings.  I think this is a mistake.  Community may take place within buildings, but community fundamentally consists of people.

I found the source of these posters online, and there is some commentary that goes along with this one that I really connect with:
 Jewish tradition says that it is in the muddy, complex, fraught world of human relations and shared responsibility that God’s presence can be brought into our lives.
We need to share the heaviness with others. We need to recognize our own limitations, and the places where we need help. Asking for and accepting help -- not doing it all alone -- leads to holiness.

NaBloPoMo November 2013

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