Tuesday, May 13, 2014

me first

"If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am not for others, what am I?
If not now, when?"
~Hillel

My initial reaction tends to be to scoff at the first line.  It sounds like an excuse for selfishness, to me.  I immediately jump to the second, and think how much more important that is, I focus on that and eventually make my way to the third line, only to think.. easier said than done.

I really thought my life would go better than this.  I'm an intelligent person, a compassionate person, and when it comes to doing right by others, even a courageous person.  When it comes to being for myself though, I am a simpleton and a coward.  Not to suggest that I'm without selfishness, so much as that I'm pathologically terrible at it.

Maybe I scoff at the idea of prioritizing being for myself because it's foreign to me. I don't know how to live that way.  I don't even know what it should mean to me.  I can't even think of a damn thing I want in life, much of the time.  I'm lonely, I just want to live, but that's about it.

I didn't think it would even matter so much, but sure enough, as I cannot be for myself, nor has anyone else.   I know I'm not supposed to pick this saying apart the way I do.  As I understand it, those three lines are placed together, in that order, for a reason.  Maybe a better reason than I'd been inclined to consider.

3 comments:

sue rouda said...

If Not

If I am not for myself
who is for me?
If I am only for myself
who am I?
If not now
then when?
If not with others
then how?
If not here
then where?

Rabbi Hillel, Adrienne Rich, Dane Kuttler

Joshua Abell said...

"If not with others, then how?"

If this question is intended to be rhetorical, in the same way the others seem to be, the implication is that involvement with others is a vital condition - to which I'm strongly inclined to agree - but it always seems to come back to this. My utter failure to connect with people, society, any sort of community. Even make any friends.

Despite any indications to the contrary, I've never really gotten past that at all.. and whatever's going on with me, in this respect, seems to undermine everything else.

It is good to hear from you, in any case.

sue rouda said...

I am in much the same boat. I am and always have been an outsider. As much as I believe (both theoretically & practically) that relationship and community are essential elements in our lives (especially if we want to enact change), I have always been quite pitiful at it. Still am. But relationship is only meaningful when there is honesty to oneself. For some of us whose beliefs and temperaments run counter to those around us, the isolation can be quite hard. Stay true to yourself.