A Life of Meaning
Faith - A Tale of Two Lives
The importance of counting - of being needed - is essential in our lives. Sustaining faith, knowing we are important to our family, to our surroundings, and our friends, nurtures our Neschoma, our soul, our spirit, our very being. To no longer be able to contribute, to give of ourselves, can threaten our very existence. This is true from infancy through old age. The baby who is not nourished with mother’s love wilts visibly. He or she suffers from marasmus. In attempting to feel, he can be observed banging his head into a crib at a very young age; he has the inability to thrive. The infant who is loved will love in return by smiling and returning the affection received. If the unloved infant survives he may fill his emptiness in one of a number of ways. He may become the class clown, or act out in unacceptable behaviors to gain attention, or excel in his studies/accomplishments and receive some recognition, frequently exerting enormous energy to be noticed. The final outcome can be seen in adults who are psychopaths. They have no positive feelings; right and wrong is no concept for them. They act out in various ways, getting pleasure from revenge, for not being loved. They are the individuals who maim, steal, and murder. They are the Mansons and the Hitlers of the world. They are the criminals who sometimes end in jails or in institutions for the criminally “insane” like St. Elizabeth Hospital in Washington, DC.
During the lifetime love and being important – the “being a Mensch”, is essential for us all. As Jews we can feel good when we continue to give, by being a parent, adulated by our young children, being worthwhile and appreciated by the older ones, being able to raise them in a caring loving way, giving and receiving. As good Mamas we stuff them with food and are dismayed when they don’t partake. Food spells love, especially to the nurturing woman. When refused she feels rejected. This is frequently the one way in which she can still give and “kvell” in the pleasure of their accepting – not only of the food but of the accepting of herself by the recipient. As Jewish individuals and parents we need love, attention and affection more than others since we have historically been rejected by the outside world – the anti-semites who treated us with disdain. To feel useless can lead to a form of suicide, to have the will to give up – to surrender. In old age these feelings become more pronounced as individuals experience their strength waning, their ability to perform diminishing and their significant others needing them less and less. The opposite is true for persons who feel needed and useful. The two authentic cases that follow will illustrate these facts.
Abe is a religious man who had an excellent education, grew up with doting parents who supported him in his endeavors and enabled him to accomplish his goals. At age forty he suffered from a toxic form of carcinoma. Despite the fact that he was unable to continue practicing his profession he continued to be religious, taught his children and was instrumental in being the role model that they so admired. He had to suffer surgeries, endless discomfort and pain from innumerable chemical treatments and burns from radiation, yet he chose to continue on his journey. He felt necessary to his wife and children and they clung to him and were in awe of his inner strength and faith. He always felt wanted and useful; he was important to his family. Many years have passed since he received his condemning diagnosis. Abe is alive today. He raised his children to adulthood, enjoyed their bar and bat Mitzwahs, “schepped naches” at their graduations and continues to be adulated and needed by those closest to him. For several years now he has been found clear of the dreaded tumors that plagued him!
Inge grew up among the Nazis in Germany and at age ten she escaped the persecutions with her parents and two brothers. They were shunted from one country to another and ultimately ended in the USA when Inge was fifteen. Her parents were so distraught that they were depressed most of the time. Their younger son, twin of the girl, displayed a schizoid personality which added to the family’s unhappiness. Inge met a non-Jewish immigrant in college, married him and became a Mom after a few years. She was busy and productive with her children and her life but she lost much of her Jewishness, her religion, her culture. When at age seventy she discovered she was suffering from cancer she chose to ignore the obvious symptoms. Her one daughter was very ill and two other offspring lived out of town. Her husband was a very self involved man who did not fully comprehend his wife’s needs. Inge felt more and more useless. Thirteen months passed before she shared her symptoms with her physician. By that time the carcinoma had invaded her body extensively. She refused chemotherapy and insisted that she had lived long enough. She feels unnecessary, can no longer do the giving of herself that she so needed. She has lost her zest for life. Her fate is sealed!
Let us remember that Faith is nurtured in childhood and sustains us throughout our existence. Let our loved ones remember the positive influences that we had on their lives and give us the opportunity to still be needed!
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).