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.