163: For Myself, But Not Only For Myself (Rabbi Hillel)

                “Do you ever think that what makes you a person is also what keeps you from being a person?” -Wendy Wasserstein, The Heidi Chronicles
                “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” -Rabbi Hillel

                I think one path won’t lead you all the way through the forest. There are different paths, and different ways of walking them; follow the setting sun, but not forever. Swim the lake, but then climb out and warm yourself on the stones. Close your eyes and follow the taste of the air–until it’s time to see again.
                To be a person you need to believe in your own heart, your own mind, your own life. If you don’t, you won’t value yourself talents enough to hone them; if you don’t, you won’t value yourself enough to care of yourself. If you don’t, you won’t be able to help, because you won’t think of yourself as the kind of person who could help. We start by believing in our own worth–we start by being for ourselves–but if we’re only that, what are we? We’re lost, I think. “Sad” isn’t strong enough–we’re forlorn. We’re smaller than we should have been, cut off from what we should be a part of.
                These days I hear people say “you do you.” It’s a good idea–or at least, the beginning of a good idea. As a teacher, I see students who’ve forgotten how to make a mistake, who don’t remember that they’re curious. I tell them to learn for themselves. I tell them to follow their hearts into whatever questions and dreams they see. I think that’s an important path, and it takes us into the woods. But if I want to come out of the woods–if I want to have what I am become something more than just what I am–I need to find a different path once I’ve begun. I need to find something that goes beyond me.
                It’s like inhaling and exhaling: unless you’re doing both, you’re not breathing. We look at ourselves to see what gifts we have, to see what we can share with the world. We look at the world to see where our gifts are needed. The next time I forget that, I’ll try holding my breath until I realize that just inhaling won’t get me very far.

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