intimate conversation

One of my favorite writers is Rabbi Nachman of Breslev.  He had thousands of followers, but told his students that it was hard for him to speak to more than ten people at the same time. Because, he explained, when he talked to people, he wanted to communicate with each person present on a one to one basis, and he was unable to focus on more than ten people at one time.  After writing that blog post that I called ‘comeback’, a very dear friend of mine said, ‘Now you’ve done it. You’ve spoken straight from your heart. You ought to write that way in the future’. But instead of encouraging me, this advice put a damper on my ability to write. I started thinking about those subjects that I study in solitude and about my dreams… and realized that were I to discuss such things in a public forum, it might lead to the unhappiness of a reader. Not because they would feel sorry for me, but because they might challenge themselves with those same thoughts… even if they weren’t ready for them. The questions I ask myself, and my perspective in life have been influenced by what I saw in childhood. Rabbi Nachman chose to tell stories that were complex parables, and each reader could take from them those messages that appeal to him or her. There have been many commentaries of his stories. Some of them very deep. To others, his stories resemble fairy tales.

graffiti in memory of Rabbi Nachman

When my children were little, I remembered that my parents had never spoken to me about sex. At that point in my life, I was trying to correct my parents mistakes in the way I raised my own children, and so when my two oldest children got to the age when I thought they might be curious about the subject, I decided to tell them ‘the facts of life’. They were about the same age that I was when I became curious about such things. But when I took them aside and told them how this particular function, essential to human continuation, works, they showed very little interest. They couldn’t wait to find another subject to talk about. I realized that any knowledge may be meaningless to us till we’re ready to deal with it.

As luck would have it, I was exposed to cruelty and death at a very early age. In fact, I was born at a time and place that introduced me to circumstances so extreme as to make me feel as if I had been born on an alien planet. I could find no emotions to deal with what I saw and heard outside of my well furnished room, and the comforts my parents afforded me. As I grew older, life around me improved. I discovered the pleasures of nature, and liked riding my bicycle. My greatest pleasure was reading and studying. That was what comforted me in my loneliness. The writers that I read were like older brothers and sisters to me. I heard their voices in my head, and felt a familiarity with them that I was unable to find in the social world around me.

men in prayer

Life kept getting better though. It seemed to me that the world relaxed. There still were wars, but they were far away now. And the people I saw around me seemed to be busy chasing happiness and sensory pleasures. They seemed most cheerful when accumulating money, eating rich foods and playing with toys. When I heard about post traumatic stress syndrome, I thought such phenomena only concerned other people. For me, it seemed that all of life was a cluster of ripe traumas. When reading psychology, I learned that for some people a real trauma seemed to be wanting to have sex with a parent and realizing that it was forbidden… or wanting something else that was forbidden. Ah, happy normality. I remember listening to Woody Allen in an interview… he mentioned that as a child he worried about the sun dying in another 5 billion years. Okay, I thought, he discovered his mortality, and could joke about it. Humor might provide relief from anxiety… but what about horror?

a glimpse of my Jerusalem

As a professional photographer, I used to prepare lecture slides for some of my customers. This was before the PC and PowerPoint. I was once having coffee with one of my customers after having delivered his work. He told me of the amazing progress that was being made in chemical treatment of psychological complaints. He said there were new medicines that effectively cured depression. I said to him, ‘you know, I suffer from depression occasionally’. He said, ‘Ah Shimon, if that ever happens to you again, get in touch with me, and I’ll give you a pill that will just amaze you’. Some time later I called him up and told him I felt pretty depressed at the time. He said, ‘I’m really sorry to hear that. Why don’t we get together today, have a beer and talk’. We got together at a pub and drank a couple of beers. He never mentioned the pill. And I didn’t want to ask if he didn’t offer it. I’ve lived most of my life without pills.


36 responses to “intimate conversation

  1. Beautiful, beautiful post Shimon…classic you. You have lost nothing in your ability to write, quite the opposite. Your prose flows, naturally, elegantly and allows us, [me] the reader to glimpse into the person who has written these thoughts and presented these ideas. To many, they will be tangible, recognisable and a comfort. Keep sharing!


    • Thank you very much, menhir. Actually, it is quite difficult for me to write about myself, but your comment, and other comments I got here have helped me deal with the discomfort. I truly appreciate it. And yes, shalom… for you and me and all of us. xx

  2. Good afternoon Shimon….I have missed reading your wonderful posts….Two things struck me in this one. I believe that we should write what we know about and understand…it always comes through. The other very important thing you said is ‘Knowledge is meaningless until we are ready to deal with it’ The older I get the more I understand this. Always wonderful to see your photographs and a very special treat to see dear Nechama. Janet 🙂

    • Ah Janet, no matter how well we see our surroundings, it is always hard to see ourselves (without a mirror). The same about our weaknesses and our fears. It is difficult to write about my own weaknesses. But I was trying, in any case. How very grateful I am for my virtual friends. It’s amazing, and I can barely grasp it. I’ll convey your sweet regards to Nechama.

  3. This is the first important piece I’ve read this morning. It is 6:32 in the morning, here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. When I saw that I had a piece of your writing to read over my first coffee, I was beyond excited. Now, after reading, I feel as though I have enjoyed a huge buffet…I feel satisfied and enriched. Thank you for the banquet.

    • Thank you so much for your sweet comment, Kathleen. As you probably know, I had the privilege to teach art for a while, and I enjoy seeing your projects and your work. It is a pleasure to share interests with others through this amazing media. It is good to get back in touch with my virtual friends… even if I don’t always understand the very tools I use these days.

  4. Thank you, Shimon. I’m always fascinated by what people take and make of their life experiences, especially those that formed their outlooks and responses when they were young and so very vulnerable. Becoming is life-long, but so much of who we are and how we make meaning, at any moment, is fueled by our childhood.

    I am grateful that you have chosen such profound art forms, photography and writing, to share your wisdom and searching. I have been led to still my spirit and to reflect, deepen, and, often grow because of your words, and I am grateful.

    • You know, Kitty, I had a teacher I loved when I was studying in the University, and he convinced me that all it took, to make the world a better place, was education. I suppose I wanted to believe his message. But as I grew older and had children of my own, I realized that genes were a very large part of who we are, and that what we live through, especially when we are very young, shapes who we are. I am still learning, but it gives me great comfort to sense that I have a few friends who share my interests and hopes. Thank you very much.

  5. It’s Thanksgiving morning, here, and I thought, “How appropriate to hear from Shimon, today.” The telling of your stories opens a world to me that I would otherwise not experience. Similar in some things and different in others. You broaden my perspective, and I am the richer for reading. Thank you for sharing.

    • We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in my country, Judy. But I was introduced to the holiday when I was in America, and it is one of the most beautiful holidays I know. It is such a pleasure to think of all the people who take a break from whatever keeps them busy most of the time, and contemplate what they’re thankful for. I try to do the same in my own way. In that our intentions are the same on this wonderful day, we can transcend the distance and the differences, and hold hands in friendship. Thank you so much for your sweet comment.

  6. No matter the topic, you always write from the heart, Shimon. That’s why it gives us all such pleasure to have you back. And when you say things like, ‘the writers that I read were like older brothers and sisters to me’ I’m not sure whether to comfort you or envy you your beautiful prose.

    • Thank you very much, Mary, for your kindness and support. One of the things I learned along the way in this life, was that our friends… those who see us up close on a day to day basis, may see us very differently from the way we imagine ourselves. It is a little like it was the first time we heard a recording of our own voice. I remember thinking, is that me? And when I get advise from a friend, I often wonder if he or she sees something I don’t see. I often try the advise even if my first thought is that it isn’t right for me. But in any case, it is always a learning experience. And learning is my favorite occupation.

  7. How nice to read your post dear Shimon, as always you shared your thoughts and feelings in a wonderful writing soul, fascinated me. Thank you, to start a day by reading you, how nice I can’t explain. Blessing and Happiness, Love, nia

    • Dear Nia, it is always so good to meet with you, and good too, to see your world and your cat friends through your photography. I think of you as if you were living next door to me. You always offer good wishes and love, and I take them very seriously. I look at you as an example of the best spirit in blogging. Thank you very much. with love, shimon the cat.

  8. From Rabbi Nachman to parables, from the large to the small, you bring us full circle – back to each other and the priceless effect we can have on each other. Thank you, as always Shimon

    • It is such a pleasure to get your sweet comment, Mimi. Through my life I’ve read many different explanations as to our advantage over all the other life forms in this world of ours. There are those who think that our hands, with the thumb opposite the fingers was what gave us our advantage. And others who believe that the fact that we walk on two legs enabled our domination. There are many theories. It’s my belief that our sense of community together with our ability to communicate is our great asset. And it seems to me that the spirit of mankind is most pronounced in the community. The virtual community will no doubt be studied soon. How amazing, that we can’t see each other’s smile, or the facial expressions, or the body language… we don’t hear the voices of our virtual friends… and still we can feel so close to one another at times. It can be a spiritual experience.

  9. I read your article yesterday and this early morning. I love how you start with your favorite write and share your stories, then and now.
    Wonderful to live most of your life without pills but having beer and good friends around. 🙂
    Thank you, Mr. Shimon.

    • Yes, Amy, I mentioned how I suffered in my childhood. But I have to say that life got better and better for me. And now as I look back, I am filled with gratitude for what I have received. My biggest dreams were realized. I try to enjoy every day. Of course, life is full of ups and downs, and I am still trying to learn how to make the most of the ‘downs’ too. I’ve learned from others, and it is an honor for me to try and pass on some of what I’ve learned. Thanks very much for your comment.

  10. Horror is a terrible thing, I don’t know how people get over it, or adapt to it, maybe some just bury it so very deep. I haven’t seen people maimed or killed, but plenty of animals and those images will stay with me to my dying day.
    I love how you write, there is always a story within a story, I feel I’m walking along a main road and popping up and down the side streets, then out again, back on the main road. You are a born story teller. I’m glad you were cured by beer, instead of pills, that had me smiling. Here’s to a virtual drink together. Salute!xxx

    • My dear Dina, I’m not sure that we can ever overcome some traumas. But looking around me, as I was growing up, I saw people who lost an arm or a leg… people who were blinded or rendered unable to walk. I saw innocent people who were born without sight, or with birth defects, or unusual physical or mental characteristics. And even so, many of them have been able to overcome their handicaps, whether ‘natural’ or the results of accidents or evil intent. Who am I to complain, having gotten so much. I realize I just have to carry my scars, and try my best to live a good life. And I’ve had a very good life, and I’m grateful for it. Always good to see you, and trade thoughts and experiences with you. Thanks for the comment. xxx

  11. Childhood has a big influence in our life as we get older and stories to be told. stories to be written. Nothing is more important than sharing a story. I feel sorry for the Rabbi to have so much follower. Were you able to have a one on one with him just like your friend having a beer or two just to talk? People that are in tune with the world do suffer depression. I do. Pax, Perpetua

    • Hi Pilgrim. You don’t have to be sorry for the rabbi, having all of those followers. We are all born with different characteristics, and according to our nature, we find what to do in this life, or those around us… our parents, our friends, help us find our place. A strong man may cut trees with which to make homes, and one who is afraid to go out of the house may cook to feed his neighbors. The Rabbi I mentioned had great wisdom, and so there were many people who learned from him… even those who heard the message second hand, or read his stories from a book. I never met him, for he died before I was born. But in reading his stories, I learned something of value. Even the finest guitar is only sometimes in tune… and a lot of times is out of tune, waiting for someone to tune it. It is my impression that people in tune with the world don’t suffer depression. They do their work with a smile on their faces. But sometimes even they are out of tune, and that’s when the depression hits. But a friend is very good for depression. That’s what I’ve learned having had quite a bit of sadness and depression. Thanks very much for your comment.

  12. Have reblogged it on my blog. Been a long time since I read your posts.

  13. It is a pleasure to read your writing Shimon and as always it comes from your heart. Our hearts feel and we respond in kind. You are sharing your thoughts and perspectives and we gain from your vulnerability and recognise our own in it. To sit with a friend when they are in a sad space in life is loving grace. Hugs for you, always and I hope you keep sharing. Xx

    • Thank you very much, Jane. I am repeatedly amazed by friendship in the virtual world. There is something about the means that brings out the skeptic in me. Yet I do feel it. I hope to write about this internal schism I experience… and meantime, I’m grateful for the experience.

  14. You always write from the synergy between your head and your heart. Always rationale, thought-provoking, and meaningful … and cheers to the power of a beer and conversation with a friend.

    • Yes I join you in cheers to the power of a talk with a friend… though sometimes I worry that I am too rational; I’m always reminded of Vonnegut’s classic, ‘tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder why’. Thanks for your kind words, Frank

  15. I am learning to ride out the storms in my life cuz there is nothing sweeter than finally emerging from the water and taking a deep breath, friend Shimon Katz … I love you forever … Purrs … cat.

    • As long as we think we’re riding them out, my dear Cat, it means we’re optimistic… sometimes it’s just too much, and we call, enough! Thank you for your love… I can hear the purring.

  16. It was interesting to read a bit about Rabbi Nachman. His emphasis on intimate, informal communication with God — “speaking in normal conversation, as you would with a best friend” — puts the title of your post, and much of its substance, into a richer context. I suspect I’ll not forget the name of his first disciple, either.

    One of the issues I grappled with in beginning my own blog was how much biographical material to include. In the end, I coined a phrase for myself that has worked to guide my approach: to be personal, but not confessional. Some experiences of my life would make compelling reading, but I prefer allowing the lessons they’ve taught to inform my writing, rather than making the experiences themselves the focus.

    In this age of celebrity, “followers,” “likes,” and obsessive self-revelation, psychological and emotional reticence probably seems unbearably old-fashioned to some. But we not only have secrets, each of us is a secret, even to ourselves. Cherishing, protecting, and nurturing that secret we bear is one of the most important things we can do.

    • I agree with most of what you say (here and in other places), though I don’t think I’m a secret to myself. I was raised in a very different school from that of Rabbi Nachman, but his attitudes were revolutionary both to his own school and to mine. I especially liked that you said, “I prefer allowing the lessons they’ve taught to inform my writing”, because that is my attitude too. In our developing conversation, you spoke about fences, and this is a very important subject in Judaism. I think in the age of ‘celebrity’, as you said, it is my natural inclination to share less of myself on a personal level. When everyone is shouting, there is a temptation to communicate by shouting too. And it is then, that we are reminded of the bard’s advise, ‘to your own self be true’. Thank you Linda.

  17. The reason I’ve fallen behind with reading your blog is that I don’t want to give it short shrift. I want to savor it, and give it the attention it deserves. So here I am, weeks later, at a busy time of year, trying to catch up!
    As a social worker (retired!) I find the last paragraph very interesting. It’s possible your friend was skillful enough to gauge whether or not that pill would have been appropriate, and to realize that talk was a better medicine for that particular situation. It’s true that anti-depressants can seem miraculous, but at some point you’d likely want to stop taking the pill, and that can be difficult.
    I think your posts ARE like the Rabbi’s stories, in the sense that they engage us but leave us room for our own interpretation. Your early trauma undoubtedly made deep and long-lasting changes – or impressions – on your psyche. Maybe as you grew older, you’ve found ways to help others deal with their troubles, in an indirect way, similar to what a true story teller does.

    • I know what you’re talking about bluebrightly. As strange as it might seem to others, I sometimes miss the blogs I love the most, because I put off reading them, or checking out the pictures, thinking that I want to appreciate them when I have a bit of time, and a really good mood. You might very well be right about the motivations of my friend regarding the pill. I’ve learned that even those great ‘miracle cures’ often have side effects that aren’t such a pleasure. Thank you so much for your kind words regarding my blogging. The friendships I’ve made with other is this virtual world are beyond my understanding. But I accept cyberspace in faith, gratefully.

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