William Hamilton
William Hamilton

‘There are people I do not know yet who need me’

“Like I said, we all need our stories.” Journalist Jennifer Senior notes this in her powerful new essay on what Bobby McIlvaine has left behind nearly 20 years since he died on September 11, 2001. The thorough article looks at emotions like grief, bitterness, and conspiracy attachment with rare sensitivity.

The author even notes her own emotional needs, since she is a personal friend of the McIlvaine family. She needed to believe that the would-be fiancé of Bobby was a heartless villainess for denying his mother access to his journal. Turns out, she was not.

We all need our stories. We need to believe ‘That person who holds that objectionable views is bad’. ‘The person who just did that insensitive thing must be selfish.’ Sometimes we’re right. Yet, occasionally, when we learn more about the life of another human being, our story about them deserves a revision.

This all got me thinking this week about needs. Meeting needs is an essential part of living. Short-term needs like cravings feel commanding. Longer-term longings revisit at dreamier times. These days, we are all emotionally needy.

One of Bobby’s most telling journal entries reads: “There are people I do not know yet who need me.”

Being needed is essential to all us. It’s vital to our own self-esteem and to our hope in the future. Depression tries to convince us we don’t have a future. When we feel this, it’s important that others remind us that we do.

Pain demands our complete attention. It makes thinking about the past or the future really hard. The next time you meet someone, perhaps even the person you meet in the mirror, for whom pain is winning, remind them of the number of years they have lived without these current feelings. Jennifer Senior’s telling advice from another essay reminds us how we need gentle hints of a future when we won’t be stuck in our present pain.

This week’s portion of Torah itemizes modes of leadership. Beyond kings, judges, prophets, and priests, there is an allusion to future rabbinic authority. “You shall act according to the instruction they will give you” (asher yorucha) (Deut. 17:11). The verse is addressing the future. Not merely future modes of leadership, but perhaps also a future that leads us forward from our present predicament.

We all need our stories. The the story we need to tell now, as COVID resurgence has thrown our hopeful-planning a curveball, is that there will be a future when pain won’t win.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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