The great Dutch psychiatrist Professor Piet C. Kuijper told sophomore medical students patients’ life stories. To teach us that there was nothing crazy about people gone crazy.
A boy who never knew his father. Was born to a heroine prostitute. Who died early in his life. He had no further family and was put in an orphanage. Where he was sexually abused by staff. When he dared to complain, he was sent to another orphanage where he had no friends and was sexually abused by the head of the orphanage. He finally escaped and even got himself a job and a wife. But she was a sadist who made every minute of his life like hell and his boss went bankrupt. He still managed to find himself a loving wife and started a successful business with his best friend. They had a child. But then the child died and then his wife. And his best friend took off with all the money. And then he got a debilitating chronic illness. And then he came to us with serious psychiatric problems.
His moral: would you not have snapped? Won’t you have respect for such a person? Can’t you feel for him?
I think it was the renowned author Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits who wrote regarding the Holocaust that craziness is the normal result of a crazy situation. I found that all craziness is only in the ear of the beholder.
My teacher, Harvey Jackins, reported that he was at the deathbed of a Black woman who said to him: I’ve been terrified all my life and I’ve never let it stop me.
I have had my own amount of unfair misfortune and misery in life but I was also very lucky to get tons of support. If this post was about me, I would list all the support I found.
I saw people whose character was broken by life. They had turned bitter, impatient, angry, selfish — you name it. I didn’t blame them but I decide not to go that route.
To the contrary. When I discovered I had no patience, I decided to grow it. When I found that I was not humble enough, I grew it. When I found I did not love myself, I did not just maintain myself by loving others.
When Israel started as a State and the broken returned from the camps, the attitude was: help and shut up. That was not good but there was no alternative. But that situation is over. We have space for complaints and many have discovered that. Complain, whine, moan, and harp about everything. How hard it is. But never say: “I give up, take me away.”
One of the problems of being overly pessimistic (and of it’s mirror image being overly optimistic) is that we may miss seeing what goes well. Just imagine that this would have happened when we had no mobile phones yet. Tracing contacts would have been impossible.
And when I seemed trapped in life, I did not give up. When no hope for a good future existed anymore, I said: This is only temporary, I won’t give up.
I remembered the story — true or false — how Nazi Germany had given up on bombing London because it saw no effect. Thank G^d, they didn’t know that England was three weeks away from surrendering. (We can even learn from mistakes by evil empires.)
I could not spare my children from going through unbelievable suffering. That hurt. But they survived.
I had taught them early in life to tell all their friends what to do when suicide would knock on their doors. And I added: it could happen even to me and you. You don’t know where life will take you. Suddenly you turn a corner and life seems over. So, it’s good to learn it when all seems still hopeful and fun.
The trick is: Don’t diminish that life seems over, that there seems no light at the end of the tunnel. Believe it and acknowledge that. In yourself or your friend, whoever is under fire. However, also believe that things will get better. In the end, you will see light at the end of the tunnel. You’ll get a new lease on life. Just hang in there. It actually saved one.
Some people decided to live under precondition. They will go one on condition that … certain goodness would stay of be — or they would end it. But that is just waiting for life to get too hard and then what do you do?
Don’t say you want to stop living. When you’re young, everyone will think you’re crazy. But when you get old with that, people will ‘understand’ and it could get you dead (‘compassionate’ killing).
It was not easy to dedicate so much to communities that then turned against me. I gave more than I got back and evil on top of that, but at least I could extract myself. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
I remember reading in Kohelet that when you find yourself living with someone who doesn’t love you, life is darker than hell. But the commentary said: but if you are pious, you will escape her claws. So I was patient and looking forward to it coming true. And it did.
When my second wife stealthily befriended my ex, I decided to never let anything get me down. To never give up. I stayed jolly despite the pain and lack of perspective. And when love didn’t seem part of my life, I decided that I would resign myself to a lonely but happy life that if that’s G^d’s unfathomable wants from me. He can take my company but not my happiness. And then, when I stumbled upon a partner who truly loved me, life was so sweet. And when G^d ended that relationship, I just looked forward to the next apotheosis. I would never give up.
When I made aliyah, it was scary, from peaceful the Netherlands. But I got used to terrorism. It wasn’t as dangerous to everyone as it seemed in the news and with all the brave bystanders, it was actually safer here.
Then started the Second Intifada. My neighborhood got under daily fire. I said: Even if they will start shooting rockets and I need to live three months in a bomb shelter, I will not leave. I didn’t come to Israel to flee it. We’ve seen worse in history. This too will pass.
Every time I decide that nothing would break me, it was like another diploma on my life’s resume. It’s not true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It can make you crazy. But if you ask and find enough support, life will be sweet no matter what.
It’s very sweet how young people around me now are very concerned about me feeling lonely and isolated under lockdown. But actually, I’m in great shape. I have the age to look ahead and know this too will pass. And I’ve survived much harder hardships.
A part of the above is autobiographic, a part is fictional.