Five and a half weeks is a long time to be without the people you love. Five and a half weeks ago I said goodbye to my wife and children at the end of a family vacation in Maine. I was heading back to our home and my work in Florida; they were staying in New England for a summer of camp and other adventures. They even kept the dog. For five and a half weeks, I have been all alone in my house. Yesterday, I got them back.
I am grateful to the many friends I have in our community who took me into their homes for dinners, invited me to social events, and shared various other outings. That certainly made the summer more fun. But still, I missed my wife and kids.
Last night, after all the hugs and welcome-home kisses were done, I helped my littlest get ready for bed. While braiding her hair, I felt comfort in the ordinariness of it all. Right over middle, left over middle, right over middle, left over middle. The simple pleasure of braiding hair reminded me how much we need each other. Not just my daughter and I. All people need each other for the million little details that make us feel whole.
Human beings are not well equipped to be alone. Left in isolation for too long, we get restless and a little bit crazy. Family, in particular, is a habit that keeps us balanced. And, by family, I mean all sorts of families—nuclear families, extended families, biological families, adopted families, blended families, conventional families, untraditional families, and families of families. We need, in a way that is foundational to our existence, to belong to others.
Jewish tradition teaches this. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh. "All Israel are guarantors for each other" (B. Shavuot 39a). Without one another, we are helpless and vulnerable. It is only when we depend upon each other, ironically, that we become capable.
Yet, American mythology teaches the opposite. We are a country steeped in legends of rugged individualism. We believe in the ideals of "going it alone" and becoming a "self-made man." Judaism teaches that there is no such thing. We need each other. We are a part of each other. Each of us owes a debt to others that can only be repaid by helping others.
The return of my family reminds me of how deeply I need others and how deeply I need to be needed. We crave the experience of helping and being helped, of caring and being cared for, of loving and being loved.
Yesterday, I got that all back.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Anatevka, Lost and Found
A Blessing for Father's Day
Vayechi: Repair of the Dysfunctional Family