What would I want my congregation to know? Part 1

Posted on January 23, 2007

D asked the following question earlier: what specifically do you want your rabbi or even the entire congregation to know so that your experience in shul feels safer or more comforting? And which is more important – safety or comfort?

I was just talking with my husband about opening up at shul, based on D’s suggestions here. My husband said, there’s not much point in opening up to some people at shul, like … and … because they’re going to have their own agenda running.

In addition, people who know something about my struggles have been at a loss for what to say. A refuah sh’leima can seem trite, perhaps, to the person offering it, and maybe some say nothing because of that, but it actually does make a difference to me.

I’ve been to funerals for close relatives of friends, I’ve added my handful of dirt on the coffin. I’ve also been the mourner. Anyone who has been touched by death – pretty much all of us, I’d assume – knows that there are no magic words, nothing that eases the pain. We have our formulaic saying, “Hamakom yinachem eschem b’soch sha’ar availay Tzion v’Yerushalayim” – May G-d comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

But what does one say for someone in pain, emotional or physical, for which there is no cure and no end?

I won’t try to answer that for others. I think it’s individual, as unique as the person’s experience. But I can try to answer it for me.

My husband’s words made me realize something. The people he’d advised I not open up to, the ones with their own agendas, are trying to do one of two things: rescue people or fix people.

Opening up to them would be to invite a prescription for my ills and not much more. Some are uncomfortable around people in pain and need to make it (the pain, not the person) go away. Some need to be needed, so they seek out people to fix. Some just need to be right, to have all the answers.

None of these are particularly helpful to me. I have therapy, I have medication, I have my deep belief in and love for G-d. What I don’t have enough of is supportive friends. Friends who don’t try to fix or rescue. Friends who can simply listen with an understanding ear. Friends who maybe understand, maybe don’t, but are honest about it and want to understand.

Some of that is my fault. My fault for not trusting people enough to be open with them. I have friends who know I have “bad days.” But I’ve made sure they have no idea just how bad. I want to protect them from that, or preserve our friendship because I’m certain if they knew, really knew, we wouldn’t be friends anymore. Yet on some level I understand that I’m shooting myself in the foot, doing this. And depriving my friends of the opportunity to be there, if they so chose.

So part of my answer to D’s question is this: I don’t want to be fixed or rescued. I want someone to listen, to care.

I want to be understood. I want to be seen.


  1. Rivka

    Sometimes I think it’s actually better – or at least temporarily safer – than having someone in person.

    Just knowing that people like you are out there and care, it makes a difference.

    Thank you.

  2. Jack Steiner

    Friends who don’t try to fix or rescue. Friends who can simply listen with an understanding ear. Friends who maybe understand, maybe don’t, but are honest about it and want to understand.

    I think that this is part of what I like about blogging. You can develop that kind of support here, without all of the other issues.

    It is not the same as having someone in person, but it is not necessarily such a bad thing either.

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Sincerely, Me

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