Not Everyone Can Be The Director

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Lately, I find myself in many conversations, both internally and with others, about “what else can I do?” Although there was no lack of world suffering or vulnerabilities before “the election,” something about the intense dichotomies and increased visibility of hateful acts and language has increased the impetus to do more.

As I have contemplated this, I have found it helpful to think honestly about who I am. What is the best “Tracy-ness” that I can offer right now. It is hard to be patient with this process because sometimes it feels like complacency. But as I have sat with the question, little hints have bubbled up – that I feel called to help locally and to do more around food justice and using food as a way to support people. Not all the details are clear yet, but I’m slowly taking steps forward to figure out my path.

I am reminded of a famous Jewish story, that I call “The Zusia Story.”

Once, the great Hassidic leader, Zusia, came to his followers. His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear.

“Zusia, what’s the matter? You look frightened!”

“The other day, I had a vision. In it, I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusia, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusia turned his gaze to heaven. “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?'”

His followers persisted. “So, what will they ask you?”

“And I have learned,” Zusia sighed, “that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the Promised Land?'”

One of his followers approached Zusia and placed his hands on Zusia’s shoulders. Looking him in the eyes, the follower demanded, “But what will they ask you?”

“They will say to me, ‘Zusia, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?'”

I have often reflected on this story from the point of view of easing people’s perfectionist selves, where they compare themselves to someone else and find themselves wanting. I remind people that they have to be their best self – not someone else’s best self. Lately, though, in thinking about the story, I realize that it is not only about not comparing oneself but to find the courage to identify my own next steps – to reach for my best self.

In this reaching, however, I still found the insidious internal ticker-tape comparing myself to others or not valuing what I give. My partner offered an analogy that I found quite helpful. I am calling it, “Not Everyone Can Be the Director,” or “Where Would the Movie Be Without the Janitor/Cook/Electrician/Gaffer/Etc.?” It goes like this: a movie has one director and a few stars, but it could not be made if the person operating the lights fell asleep or the crew wasn’t fed or if there wasn’t someone there to clean up or if the camera person didn’t show up one day. Our world needs everyone – the front-line activists, with all their courage and commitment, as well as the people taking out the trash. The finished product is often praised for just the director or the writer or the stars – the most visible people. However, if you stay until the end and read all the credits, which I have always been drawn to do, you see that scores of people were part of making that beautiful, moving, impacting movie. Almost always unrecognized and yet completely necessary.

Another part of the comparing trap is that we never know what someone else is dealing with. Perhaps someone is able to walk to the corner and back every day, offering a generous smile and open heart to all she passes. Someone else can run a marathon and raise thousands of dollars. Still a third person sits quietly in their room, praying for those who are ill.  We may not know that the first person has a chronic illness and is pushing herself hugely to get to that corner or that the marathon runner is mourning the loss of her father and honors his memory by running or that the quiet person is fighting a depression and is grateful to just have a moment to be able to think of others.

Even if it is difficult to maintain hope, and even if we get stuck in endless comparisons and “not-good-enoughs,” I encourage each of us to find our own “me-ness” and be the best “me” you can be. Maybe pausing and listening sincerely to our internal wisdom, we will have a sense of what is the next step in “doing” with compassion and vision.  Perhaps, in time, all of our “movies” will be filled with justice for all.