Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Living in a Bubble

"Raise your hands if it's a challenge for you to look your husband in the eyes."

I almost raise mine. It's sure a challenge for me.

I've looked hundreds of men in the eyes. Deeply, soulfully, admiringly. I've even resorted to fluttering my eyelashes at them. But I'm yet to look my husband in the eyes. I wonder what color eyes he has, and when I'll get to see them.

Oh, that's not what she means. She's talking about relationships with our husbands, about Shalom Bayis. I guess that's what this Shiur is going to be about.

A warning would have been nice. I was looking for some uplifting spirituality, not a reminder of how lacking I am on my own.

I hope my mother, sitting next to me, is not upset. I hope she's not thinking of how much she'd give to look into her husband's eyes. An opportunity she's not had since he died.

I wonder how many other widows, divorcees there are in the room. I catch the eye of a single woman in her fifties. She's managing to mask the pain. Or perhaps she doesn't mind. Perhaps by now she's grown numb, grown used to it. Used to never ending references to things she is missing.

We all live in bubbles, bubbles of our own making. We have a tendency to think that where we are holding, so is everyone else.

Please, remember the others.

Before you speak of children, remember the childless.
Before you speak of spouses, remember the single, the widowed, the divorced.
Before you speak of families, remember those who are alone.

It can work in the other direction too. From sagas designed to pull at heartstrings, to casual episodes to spice up a talk. Melodramatic tales are casually dropped. References that can drive some listeners to tears.

I've been in the corridor, outside, when women have stood up and left Shiurim in the middle, able to take no more. I've seen their faces as they've leaned against the wall, outside, shaking, fighting back the memories that the careless mentions brought back to them.

So before you tell of sickness and disease, of hospital wards and intensive care units, think of the terminally ill.
Before you tell of death, of deathbeds and burials, think of those who recently lost a loved one.

Tact, sensitivity, consideration, these should be values in our world too.

Pause, stop a moment, remember there are people in the audience for whom this can be a sensitive topic, choose your words with care. There are some places where even angels fear to tread, and rightly so.


  1. Not too preachy at all!
    Great post, I can relate!

    Though sometimes if a speaker is speaking to a big crowd it may be hard for them to take into account all the different types of scenarios people can be in.

  2. Before you speak of thoughts, remember the brainless.

    Come on...

  3. Thank you so much for this post, it is something that many people rarely care to think about. I hate it when people brag and show off pics of their family to people who cant do the same back, its very obnoxious.

  4. Actually Anonymous #1, one should "remember the brainless" when "speaking about thoughts". It's called speaking to people on a level they can understand. Just as insulting someone's intelligence is wrong, talking about a subject or event that your listener can't follow is wrong. I was at a Shabbat meal once when a BT was asked a question that he was unable to answer. How do you think he felt? The BT kept mitzvot on a very high level and I'm sure that the host assumed that his learning matched his observance. The BT evaded the question and the host had the tact not to pursue the matter.
    I've been on both sides of tactlessness, and I've learned my lesson well. Although I was sure that I had been told that the past middle-aged woman came on aliya to be near her children. She was single, not widowed. I wanted to bury myself in the ground.
    This is definitely a post worth sharing on other blogs.

  5. True... to an extent. Whatever one is lacking, one has not prayed for enough. Take the story of Channa in Shmuel. If she wouldn't be bothered by Penina, we wouldn't have the Holy prophet Samuel. However, one must be sensitive with the choice of words to remind other of his lacking and encourage prayer to fill the space. Even widows and orphans should be encouraged to regain their loss by alternative means (may it be another husband or growth within their own family to fill the gap).

    Conclusively, yes, one must be sensitive with speech yet not withhold something that must be said and at that point it is up to the listener to love the speaker and give proper benefit of the doubt that the speech is truly being spoken out of only good means.

    Everything is for the good! Shabbat Shalom.

    P.S. You need sincerely to open yours eyes to see your future husband's eyes... b"H you'll do both soon.

  6. If only other religious people were as considerate as you about women's feelings. Unfortunately they usually are not. You are the very first person I have heard to mention this problem with shiurs for women and you are right. You are wise beyond your years. It is always directed at the married woman who has a decent husband and has kids, telling her to be "more patient with him/them". You go to a shiur with good intentions but if you are single/divorced/widowed you just end up feeling worse than before

  7. Not only should these "also" be virtues, they should be THE virtues.

    As Hillel said, "Do not do unto others that which is hurtful to you. All else is commentary."

    I was having this discussion, how a woman made a hurtful comment, but then thought, "Well, she's thoughtless in general." But how come some people are always thoughtless the hurtful way, while some are always sweet and kind even when low in IQ?

    It's said R' Steinman even had to remind people that shortcuts like chumras don't help you if you violate the mitzvos regarding others' feelings.

  8. Anonymous #3= Despite her good intentions, Penina lost most of her children , because of the pain she caused Chana. Whenever Chana had a child born to her, two of Penina's died. Eventually, when Chana was pregnant, she prayed to God to spare Penina the last two. That's why they are accredited to her.

    So basically I don't advise copying Penina.

    Advising people with lines like "Whatever one is lacking, one has not prayed for enough" usually cause more harm than good.

    Before you decide to "not withhold something that must be said", think of the lesson we are taught by Sefer Shmuel. The means don't justify the end.

  9. Thanks for sharing - well said, as usual! Something we all need to be more aware of - making an effort to really think about how our listener may be affected by our most well-meaning and seemingly innocuous words.

    As for Mr Right, I know you will find him at the best possible time for you both, BE"H sooner rather than later, and you will be very very very happy together Ad 120!

  10. Please don't think too hard! You know, it's just as awkward when someone is trying to be sensitive as when they're not. Maybe worse.

  11. Wow, that's incredibly powerful and thought-provoking. We really do need to be mindful of developing a greater sensitivity toward others - thanks for pointing out an area that I (and I'm sure many others) need to work on...

  12. Frum n Flip,

    Penina was punished for teasing her. Has she did the same thing with the right choice of words, things would be different. Not my words, words of our sages...

    Anon #3

  13. Not all thoughtless folks are brainless - one of the highest forms of meditation is to release oneself from all thoughts - and it is next to impossible not to think about anything at a given moment.

    I used to hate when people would ask about my mom who had died when I was 6 always very awkward for me.

  14. While I do agree with you that it's very important to bear others in mind when you speak, I also think that at a certain point all conversation becomes impossible. While I have had people talk about things which hurt me deeply, while they remained oblivious, I think it's also the responsibility of the person with the sore spot to work on themselves and look past a certain amount of the hurtful comments.

  15. L. and Something Different-

    You're right. In one-on-one conversations it's a whole different story, and skirting topics can be just as bad.

    But in this post I actually meant to talk about public speaking. I'm tired of speakers either assuming the audience is made up of a hetergenous crowd of marrieds-with-kids, or, what's worse, using cheap sensationalism.

    "This reminds me of a parable about a man who is dying. Imagine a dying man, his last breaths, imagine what he's saying to his family. In the same way the beeps of the heart monitor signify his soul leaving his body, what we see today signifies.."

    You get the picture. I'm used to it.But what about the next person, who's perhaps gotten up from Shivah and ventured out to a shiur? Is adressing a crowd really an excuse? Maybe it's time we stop making excuses for our Shiurim, and ask for change.

  16. Thank you and well said. After working at Machon Puah for half a year I became extremely sensitive to people unable to have children.

    At the same time that I chide other people in my head for lack of sensitivity I need to remind myself to be sensitive towards other groups who are often made to feel uncomfortable. Thank you.