Jewish Journal

Islands of Sanity

by Susan Esther Barnes

October 10, 2012 | 8:00 am

I have been working all kinds of extra hours, stressing about deadlines, workflow processes, what is going to fall between the cracks, how bad it’s going to be when we discover what we missed, etc. But I’m not feeling overwhelmed. Part of the reason for that is I’m naturally resilient. And part of the reason for that are the islands of sanity that keep appearing in my life.

Sometimes the island is something unexpected and spontaneous, like when I came to work on a Monday morning after working on Sunday, and found an email from a client saying, “As always, thanks for your prompt support and kind nature.” People often don’t understand what an impact a note like that can have on someone.

Sometimes the island is something planned and expected, like Friday night after services, when I went to the house of a friend and spent the evening singing with Dan Nichols and my community. It’s on nights like those that, no matter what is happening in my life, I can lose myself in the sweet harmony of the music.

When I’m lucky, I may get an extra treat like the recent Simchat Torah celebration, with kids, elders, and everyone in between dancing and laughing, hugging the torah and lifting it high, spinning and clapping and holding hands.

Or it may be what happened the other night, when I came home with a real need to speak with my husband about something I thought he might not want to hear about, and he immediately dropped what he was doing in order to attend to what I had to say.

I realize that although some of these islands may seem random, and some may seem scheduled and thus readily accessible, it’s not as simple as either of those things. I am grateful that these islands are here for me because of the community I have helped to build.

They are here, at least in part, because I have left behind people and organizations that were toxic to me, and I have added relationships that are nurturing. They are here, at least in part, because I give when I can, and, because what goes around comes around, that helps me to find opportunities to find what I need.

The islands are here for me because I live in a caring community, where we look after each other. When I hear people say, “Why join a synagogue? I’m not a joiner,” I feel frustrated. My answer is, “Because, when you find the right synagogue, it is a boat that will help you find the islands. Please don’t miss the boat.”

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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