Sunday, April 15, 2012

Serenity and Courage

Years ago I bought an interesting book by Rabbi Marc D. Angel, entitled But Who Am I, and Who are My People?: A Rabbi's Reflections on the Rabbinate and the Jewish Community. A story in the introduction has stuck with me all these years. The book is in storage, or perhaps was loaned out long ago, so I don't have it in front of me, but the story goes something like this:

In a little Jewish village there was a man who was mentally simple and therefore could not keep a job for very long. Without money for food, and with his job prospects dried up, he went to the rabbi to beg for funds. The rabbi wanted to help the man keep his dignity, so rather than give him a handout, he created a "job" for this man. He instructed the man to sit every day by the entrance to the village and wait for the Messiah. As soon as he saw the Messiah approaching, the man was to call the alarm to the village to let them know that the great day had arrived and they should prepare. The rabbi reasoned that even a simple person could do this job, and that it would allow the man to be "employed" for many years.

The man was thrilled to have a job and was confident that he could do it. He accepted his first week's pay, and left enthusiastically to start his new job.

A few days later, the man returned to the rabbi's house and quit his position. It was, he said, too stressful. The job required him to be patient all the time, sitting by the village entrance and waiting; but also to be impatient all the time, being alert to the possibility that the Messiah might arrive any minute.

Rabbi Angel compared this "job" the one he'd held for many years: that of congregational rabbi. To be a pulpit rabbi, he wrote, requires one to be infinitely patient: to embrace the congregants at whatever state of spirituality or ritual observance they were at the moment; to encourage them slowly, slowly to broaden their Jewish views and behaviors; to love and lead them even when they refused to listen; to accept setbacks with equanimity. And at the same time, to be a pulpit rabbi requires infinite impatience: to dream of greater Jewish engagement for the community; to devote boundless energy to growing the congregation; to envision the limitless heights in chessed and scholarship that the congregants might be able to attain.

And indeed, he wrote, it is all often quite stressful.

It occurred to me today that being single (when one prefers to be partnered) requires the same balance.

To be infinitely impatient. To keep your heart open to the possibility of meeting (or recognizing in someone you already know) someone whom you could allow to love you; to join every possible dating site and accept every reasonable-sounding blind date idea; to remember always your own value and how much you deserve to have exactly what you want; to pray, as we in the Orthodox community are instructed to do, for God to fulfill your desires; to go on every date with an open mind; to never succumb to bitterness or allow your ego to be crushed by rejection or disappointment; to stay cheerful and confident, first for yourself and second because cheerful confidence is more attractive; to get a little angry when you can't find what you want, because you know you are a great catch and you know the right person must be out there; to maintain faith that soon, soon, things will change. To have the courage to change them by dressing nicely every day, going to singles events, remaining hopeful -- because to be impatient, to take action, takes courage.

To be infinitely patient. To understand that dating is an area of life in which ultimately you have no control at all. To embrace the possibility that perhaps, in fact, you are destined to be single for the rest of your life -- and to be OK with that. To have the confidence to know that you, yourself, are enough, whether you have a partner or not. To never need a relationship to feel validated or whole. To build a rich, active life for yourself, full of activities that you enjoy, whether they include eligible men or not. To read, to travel, to go back to school, to have a baby on your own, to buy your own house or write your book or start your own business, because you are determined to be happy and fulfilled even if you never get everything you want. To be serene enough to accept the things you cannot change -- because to be patient, to wait, takes serenity.

It is stressful. We sit at the gates of our lives, telling ourselves to stay alert, be impatient, because the thing we want could come any minute but -- go on with our lives, embrace Plan B, just in case.