I want to stay with him, comfort him, and mend his wounds. He is so pained, so lonely, and so frightened
I’ve known him for years. However, I’d never seen him in such emotional turmoil.
I asked him what was wrong.
“It gets harder and harder each year, and I feel completely inadequate for the task before me.”
We’re the same age, have shared so much of our lives, and I was unprepared for his candid revelations about his feelings of inadequacy.
He’d never seemed shy or timid. To me, he’d always had an air of confidence. But I learned a long time ago that appearances, more often than not, are deceiving. Often, the most seemingly self-confident individuals are covering up emotional turbulence and are filled with doubts. And now he, too, had joined the ranks of the fragile and emotionally challenged.
“The pressure to be creative is getting harder, not easier,” he said, “even though I’ve been doing so for so long. Am I truly a wellspring of freshness and creativity, as people believe? Why does everyone assume I can speak spontaneously and do so with wit and wisdom? When will it become known how I struggle with my own challenges? When will the real me be revealed? How do I deal with being the center of attention and a so-called source of motivation and insight when inwardly I am devoid as the next person of inspiration?”
I asked him why he doesn’t reach out to his friends, those who know him, with whom he can share his innermost thoughts, as he does with me.
“How can I have friends?” he replied. “Do I have the time to keep up old friendships? Can I realistically conceive of cultivating new ones? And even if I did, my life’s reality is that it’s nearly impossible to be self-revealing. No one wants to hear the pain, trials, tribulations, and vicissitudes of the man expected to dole out chizuk the way the candyman in shul gives out lollipops. The concept of friends implies equality and parity, and by definition, I’m placed on a prefabricated false pedestal of presumed perfection, prestige, and preeminence. All of which is patently false and outright fictitious.”
My erstwhile paradigm of superiority discloses that he is as flawed as everyone else, and I realize I’m staring into the face of a tormented individual whose struggles are identical to yours and mine.
This man, whom so many look up to with an assumption of his spiritual supremacy, asserts — to my amazement and disbelief — that he is no pillar of spiritual strength and resiliency, but as unremarkable and mundane as anyone else. He confesses to me that he feels he’s an unexceptional, even pathetic, average man. Inferior to your ordinary Jew.
As I look into his eyes, I feel his loneliness. He desperately seeks solace, yet tragically, he is emotionally destitute, a sorrowful, solitary, anguished soul.
I feel his pain and empathize with his reality.
I feel the need to divulge his secret, to expose his pain for all to see and know. The world must know that his challenges are no different from everyone else’s, his doubts and deficiencies no less than those of others. All will now know that this supposed pillar of strength is just a delusion.
I want to stay with him, comfort him, and mend his wounds. He is so pained, so lonely, and so frightened.
Alas, I have no time to dwell on his painful predicament. Instead, I vanquish him back into the fabricated fantasy he came from.
I adjust my kittel and tear myself from the mirror, yet not before ensuring the mask fits perfectly.
Then I rush into the shul just as the haunting words of Kol Nidrei begin.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 979)
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