Are we forgetting the good in others by focusing on what’s good for us?
I am often delighted by the ways in which my life is informed by the stars and the unimaginable clockwork of the universe. But occasionally, I am left breathless by a simple interaction which comes at the perfect time.
This past weekend, Michael, the kids, and I were in my happy place, gathered around the dinner table enjoying an animated conversation. My eldest son, David, was in town for a visit which made the evening that much more special. In a rare lull when most of us had taken a bite at the same time, David surprised me by asking, “What do you think my worst character trait is?” My Aquarian son, like most Aquarians, is often surprising.
As a mother, I braced myself, silently cajoling my other three children to be kind. But almost immediately (and I regret the fact that it took me a moment), I was overcome by a desire to be more like my own son. I’ve spent years helping to shape these four humans into the most profound, joyful, actualized people that they can be, and this was a full breath of what we’ve strived to nurture. My son, the boy who would try to escape when I changed his diapers, the young man who was visibly flustered for a good part of the first year we uprooted him from LA to NYC, my first-born, was so ready to take a leap of faith and ego-demolition that I would still struggle with today, quite honestly. I saw in David a strength and a vulnerability that I’m not sure I taught.
I have been the recipient of unsolicited negative feedback most of my life. Girls who become women, women who face public scrutiny, anyone who rejects the neat little boxes that we are expected to fit in and creates a life on their own terms know the sting of that negativity. To voluntarily open yourself to it is antithetical to the concept of protection of the ego and is, frankly, too scary for many of us.
David took that risk within the safety of a family dinner, but I was amazed to learn that he has been asking it outside the walls of our home. He’s posed the question to friends, schoolmates, and acquaintances at parties. That is a tenacity of vulnerability. It is the act of wrestling self-preservation to the ground in an effort to gain a higher understanding of oneself for the purpose of improving.
If you have a large, verbose family, you know what happened next. Everyone jumped at the opportunity to weigh in, thankfully from a place of love. Only one of his siblings held their tongue. Josh, my second eldest, who many of you know was diagnosed with Down Syndrome shortly after birth, quietly said, “I don’t know.”
For me, it was one of those rare moments we’ve all felt. A tingling in the extremities. A slowing of the passage of time. That beat where the universe is saying: “lean in and pay attention to what comes next.”
David encouraged his brother, insisting that he was eager to hear Josh’s opinion. Finally, my second-born told my eldest that, “Nothing matters… I mean, nothing matters to you. You come and go like it is nothing.”
My family of six was silent. Quite a feat for a Sunday dinner. What Josh said was both an indictment and a gift, not only to David but to us all. A lesson for so many of us because it is such a human commonality. What Josh meant, and the subject for the rest of the evening’s discussion, was the all-too-convenient way in which we actively abandon or thoughtlessly lose touch with those closest to us, no matter how deeply we care about each other. Josh has been profoundly affected by David’s move, and we had no idea how keenly he has missed his brother.
We get busy. We are easily distracted. We get excited about the prospects of our future and ours alone. We forget about the good in others and focus on the perceived good in our path. In many ways, the past year has made us both more aware of the importance of others and more susceptible to focusing on ourselves. It’s paradoxical and maddening, like much of our human nature.
In essence, Josh sweetly turned David’s exercise in ego destruction into an examination of ego itself. It is good and right to passionately pursue the things that make us happy and to make space in our lives that is ours alone, but the non-Freudian definition of the ego – a sense of self-esteem or self-importance – is best cultivated and expressed in the presence of the ones we love. Then our sometimes-lonely world becomes more fully realized. I was reminded of the words of Bill Watterson, the cartoonist creator of Calvin and Hobbes: “Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.”
When we focus on becoming the best selves we can be- and that is a noble effort- the self can become the point. Josh gave me an opportunity to sit back and realize that my never-ending aim toward perfection as a person, wife, mother, teacher, and friend is not an attempt to fill myself with Light so that I can see out more clearly; it is to become a beacon that can help those around me. To be a better friend and make the world a little less scary.
So, this Pesach, if you are reminded of the concept of deflating ego, as so many have written about correlated to the idea of unleavened bread, I hope that this Tale from Monica’s Dinner Table has given you something to chew on. By rejecting his ego, my son David gave his brother an opportunity to teach us all a perfectly timed lesson. There is a powerful danger in the exercising of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ We become less useful to those we care about, and they become less intrinsic to us, thereby denying us the very thing we all need most these days: connection.
RETHINK MOMENT: Is your ego getting in the way of stoking the fires of friendship and family? Is your quest for perfection for the benefit of yourself or others?