Photo: Linked, Tracey Schramm
I was going to write about recent world events, when something occurred that compelled me to address a deeply personal issue, perhaps the single most important ingredient in life.
I was speaking with someone I know, a very refined person who had reached a pristine, almost Divine state of elegance, which only comes through deep loss. This man never had a childhood. When he needed to experience innocence, his parents had abandoned him. When he was in need of simple nurturing, he was abused. He never learned to trust, thrown far to early into the cruel world.
He was discussing with me his life, namely his long search for a meaningful relationship. He was longing for a loving marriage, to build a strong family, but his history cast a long shadow that kept impeding his way. All his attempts ended up in disappointment. Clearly, his expectations were either too great or too small.
Remarkably astute, this man was deeply aware of his issues and had a unique ability to articulate them. No doubt he had spent much time contemplating his life and had achieved a profound insight into his own psyche. He understood that his search for love was an attempt to compensate for the love he never received as a child. But his journey was quite distorted. Either he was expecting too much from another, expecting the unconditional love of parents, or he was expecting too little and withdrawing in fear, with no trust, always afraid that he did not deserve to be loved.
With tears in his eyes he suddenly said: “I was never loved.
“I just want someone to love me. Why can’t I have that in my life? Why don’t I deserve that? Am I that bad of a person?”
I never saw such sad eyes. I had to control myself from crying, so I put on a steely demeanor. Yet my heart was broken.
How many times have I heard similar sentiments expressed? I can’t even count the number.
There is so much sadness in the world, so much grief. Yes, people go through their own machinations, keeping busy, distracting themselves, rather than focusing on the deeper questions. But the pain doesn’t really go away. We all have moments – perhaps much more than just moments – when we ask ourselves, whether we like it or not: “Am I loved?”
Personally speaking, I grew up in a home where I was blessed to be nurtured and loved. Though some argue that all families today have a measure of dysfunctionality, yet relatively speaking my parents provided my siblings and me with the security that all children deserve.
However, once I began to meet people who were deprived of this seemingly given love, I began to see the great gift of having a loving family, something that should never be taken for granted. When you are loved as a child, you don’t even feel its benefits. Like all healthy things, a nurturing childhood doesn’t have any sensation. It’s like healthy lungs that just breathe without effort. But when you see the contrast of someone who was not loved, someone who has to struggle for every breath, someone who has to struggle to find self-esteem and security, then you suddenly recognize the great gift of being loved.
But then as time passed, a second realization dawned on me. Is true security rooted in the love we receive from our parents and families? Because if that is true then one can argue that should that love change or be lost then our own self-esteem would be affected in direct proportion. Can we say that our sense of security in this world is dependent on the circumstantial whims of our parents and other childhood influences?
You may ask: Why rock the boat? It’s bad enough that so many people today suffer from low self-esteem or lack of identity as a result of stunted or deprived nurturing. Why the need to challenge and question those of us that were blessed to be nurtured?
Yet, just because the nurtured ones are comfortable doesn’t mean that we can ignore the big question whether our security is dependent on others. In other words, if our sense of security is derived from other people, then one must say that the same people can take away our security. To live our lives in such a precarious position seems to me far too vulnerable.
The fact is that we all suffer from some form of insecurity in an impersonal and alien world. “All roads are assumed to be dangerous,” the Talmud tells us. As the Arizal states, that the affairs of the material world are “severe” and the “wicked prevail.” If we are blessed – and may everyone be blessed in this way – we will face a minimal amount of “curve balls.” But the fact remains that everyone has their challenges, some more than others, and everyone will face at one point in life or another, some loss and trauma.
The Torah tells us that as long as the final Redemption has not arrived, the world remains a very insecure place, often lost and aimless. Is there a person, loved or not, that does not face existential loneliness? As nurtured as we may be, as inspired as we may become, as many good people you have in your life, at the end of the day each of us goes back on our lonely road where you and you alone travel.
Life can be very lonely, even when you are deeply blessed.
Obviously, if you were nurtured and loved it will greatly help you face life’s challenges. It gives you a safe ground to build upon. While someone lacking such ground always needs to run, constantly facing crisis, never feeling secure, a life driven by fear – always in the battle zone.
But we should not be mistaken and lulled into thinking that a secure life is that secure. Just because you may not need to run in fear doesn’t mean that you are safe. Circumstantial love – from parents and loved ones – is precisely that: Circumstantial. If that is the source of our security, than our security is only as strong as the love we receive from family. Should that love be taken from us, then we lose our security.
So what is the source of ultimate security? How do we know that we are truly loved and worthy of love?
The only answer I have ever found is the one declared in the opening of the Bible, the Torah. The first description of the human being in the Torah is not that s/he is a being of intelligence or emotion or any of our other virtues. The Torah describes the human as a being created in the “Divine Image.”
Every person, whether born into a functional or dysfunctional home, is a Divine being. And by that virtue we each are indispensable and absolutely loved and deserving of love.
No person or experience can strip you of that dignity because no one gave it to you. It is your inherent gift by virtue of your existence. You were created in the Divine Image and therefore you have absolute value. You are unconditionally loved and needed.
By no means does this minimize the great benefits of growing up in a nurturing environment. That nurturing allows you to access your Divine Image, but does not create it. Just as a good gardening does not create flowers, but allows the emergence of the flower seeds planted in the ground. Good parenting, healthy childhood is like watering the garden, cutting away the weeds, nurturing the ground, so that the flowers within can emerge.
But we should never convince ourselves that it is the nurturing home that gives you ultimate security. Nor is it your job, you friends, your money, your status, your possessions. Security rooted in temporary things, affected by circumstantial events, is only as strong as the source from whence it is derived, namely: temporary and circumstantial security.
The true and only unconditional source of love is from above:
G-d loves you.
Those of us that have not had the luxury of nurturing homes often discover this fact quicker than those who were nurtured. The eclipse of the sun exposes a deeper dimension of the sun that we see in the light. Such individuals who never had necessary human nurturing have no choice but to turn to G-d.
The rest of us however must not be distracted by the comforts of the nurturing we may have received, and always recognize that it is our Divine calling that is the true source of security, self esteem and existential purpose.
We are all in the same boat. And we need to help each other discover our Divine souls and meaning in life. We must love each other, nurture each other, and help cultivate a fertile environment for growth and building. But always remember that our support is meant to help us access – not replace – our true source of love, drawn from our Divine souls.
So, I say to my friend, and to all friends out there: Yes, you are loved and were always loved. Even if your gardeners were absentee, or worse, they poured on your ground salt instead of water, your flower seeds embedded in your psyche always remain intact. Even if you are not conscious of the fact, your true image is Divine.
As you learn to accept that you are loved, you can begin to love yourself, and be blessed to find the people who truly love you, and finally find the right person who will love you forever.