WorkPlace Spirituality

Colliding Worlds

I am pursuing two very different careers simultaneously. I am working both as a congregational rabbi, and as the owner of a business that provides workspace and community for people who would otherwise work from home. Most of the time, these two activities seem to blend well. After all, both are about creating and sustaining community. Some days, the combination creates a distinct sense of disjunction in my life.

Yesterday evening, I went from figuring out how to set up a LCD projector to display Game 1 of the World Series to rushing out the door and going to the hospital in Salem to be with a congregant and family in the final hours of his life. At one moment, I was concentrating on how to make the connections between a VCR which I was using as a tuner, an LCD projector and a pair of computer speakers which were powered through a USB port, and the next I was on my way out the door and heading for the hospital as quickly as I could.

I know there are those who would regard sitting with the dying as one of those duties that unfortunately comes with being a rabbi. Although I find it to be emotionally painful and hard, it is also one of the reasons I became a rabbi: to be with people in times of extremity, to be able to help them through the hard times, just as I help them to celebrate and sanctify the good times. Death is one of the places where a rabbi can make a difference, offer some comfort. I find it taxing, but fulfilling.

Yet I cannot help but be struck by the contrast between that and what I do with the rest of the day yesterday. Other things I did yesterday included: showing people around CubeSpace and talking about how CubeSpace might solve some of their problems; restarting the server to install updates; setting up a room for a meeting; and a variety of other mundane tasks that make up the normal workday. For most of the people I interacted with yesterday, the day will be just another day in their lives. A month from now, they will be unable to distinguish it and remember much about it. For the family in the hospital, and for myself, yesterday will hold a unique place, sacred and sad. It will not drop into obscurity in the stream of time, but rather will be one of those days which remains distinct as the years pass on.

There is nothing new noting the dichotomy between everyday life and death; there is no unique insight in noting that life goes on for all the rest of the world, even as an individual dies and life is brutally interrupted for the family and friend. Nonetheless, in my dual roles I feel like I have a somewhat unique perspective, drifting between a place of death and mourning and an office environment where it feels oddly inappropriate to speak of anything quite as personal as death.

I try to bring my whole self to both of my careers. In general, I feel like I succeed. People at CubeSpace know (for the most part), that I am a rabbi. People at the congregation know that I own a workspace. I feel like I am fundamentally the same person in both places: I feel like I treat people similarly regardless of which hat I am wearing. Yet very occasionally, the two halves of my life feel disjointed, and cannot be made to reconcile. And when that happens, I seek to make meaning out of this disjunction by writing about it and sharing it.  Thank you for being willing to share this with me.

0 replies on “Colliding Worlds”

I just found your blog through Ravelry. I appreciate what you said about sitting with the dying. I did that with my dad-in-law, who lived with us for the last 11 years of his life. He died here at home, surrounded by photos of his family that I’d put up near his bed where he could see them.

It was not easy for me to go through, and it was definitely not easy for him. I saw how the physical body strives for life, even in the midst of letting go of it. I had no idea how hard it would be for either one of us.

I have no regrets about doing this for Dad. I am glad he wasn’t alone in a hospital or in a nursing home, though I realize sometimes that’s unavoidable. I would do it again in a heartbeat, even though it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

Dad was 95 when he died, and I’m glad that we could sit with him during the process. It comforts me to know that he knew we were there, and that he was never left alone.

Thanks for your post.

Hi Rabbi David! I found you on Ravelry. I just wanted to say that I really have enjoyed reading your blog. I’m what you would call a “student” of spirituality in all of it’s forms, however, I have something of an affinity for all things Jewish. I’m not really sure why. Although my grandparents stated that I have Jewish ancestry, it is not proven. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog. It’s wonderful.

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