Image: My favorite picture of Jojo, who loves to sunbathe.
First, Jojo got sick. She threw up all over everywhere again and again. I felt sorry for her, and concerned. Her breathing was labored and she crouched as if in pain. She cuddled against me between retches, as if to implore: Help! None of this was her usual self; I was worried.
In the morning, I called the vet. Yes, they could see her at 3pm. Normally this would not be a problem but Linda and Jessica were both out of town.
I had to teach a class in Berkeley. I couldn’t take a sick dog, and didn’t know how long we’d be tied up at the vet. Moreover, Linda usually takes the dogs to the vet, because their office is inaccessible, and I have trouble mixing my cane with dogs. Jojo is heavy and would need to be lifted into and out of the car.
So. Many. Problems. I called Linda to get help thinking it through. She said, “Call Dawn!”
Dawn’s our friend and a fellow Jewish professional – aha! She could help me figure it out. She reminded me that a retired rabbi friend had offered to help me with classes – Yes! Then she offered to call him, so that I could work out the puzzle of how to get Jojo to the doc.
I called my son, who has two jobs and whom I try not to ask for things too often because he is busy and I don’t want to impose but sure, he would help, glad to help.
So I picked him up, and he picked the dog up, and we all three went to the vet’s office. He dealt with sad little Jojo while I got myself into the building and we saw the vet.
Turns out, Jojo is OK. No obstructions, no fever, just a tummy ache, likely from eating something in the garden – a Jojo experiment gone wrong.
There is a moral to this story. When we feel stuck, it is tempting to throw our hands in the air and say, “I can’t deal with this!” That is the moment to call upon friends: friends who can help, or friends who are calm. Get help thinking it through. Get help assessing resources.
I knew Rabbi Chester had offered to teach for me, but I needed to be reminded of it when I was in a panic. I knew Jim would say yes to helping, but I needed time to remember. I needed my whole village to make it through this puzzling, upsetting day.
And at the end of the day, Jojo felt loved (except by the vet, maybe.) I felt loved and cherished by my wife, my friend, my rabbi, my son, and the dog. I touched base with a friend I don’t talk with often enough. I got a chance to visit with my son. My class got a treat: Rabbi Chester is a wonderful rabbi and teacher.
Everyone in that chain of connections is part of my Jewish community. This isn’t the first time that they’ve saved me, and it won’t be the last. My synagogue is my rock; there are people I love and people I don’t love, but that is where I met most of the people who will show up for me when things are a mess.
None of us are equipped to live our lives like the mythical Marlboro Man, stoic and alone. Secular culture often idealizes the capable loner, but that’s bunk. We are social creatures, we human beings, and even more so, we Jews.
If you are reading this bitterly, and thinking, “I have no connections,” I offer you this: reach out to one person. Someone you know, someone not too scary, and exchange names with them. Be willing to show up for them, and then – voila! you will have a connection. Community helps with that, but it all starts with a friend.
I know you can. Years ago, I felt that I had to do everything alone. I spent most of my time drowning in anxiety. I still wind up back in that state, and I have to be reminded. That’s OK. I’m human too.