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March 4, 2015 / 13 Adar , 5775
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Different Strokes For Different Folks

Dear Rachel,

Your column speaks to many people on many levels. I have a cousin I’m very close with who wouldn’t miss a week of Dear Rachel if her life depended on it. Please publish my letter because Serena (not her real name) needs to see herself in order to recognize that she is exhibiting abnormal behavior.

My cousin is a wonderful person and great conversationalist, but only if you happen to know her up close. For all intents and purposes, she is a recluse. Although she doesn’t see herself that way, what else would you call a person who chooses to stay home for days on end because, as she puts it, she prefers privacy to mingling with others?

A couple of weeks ago she broke out of hibernation to check out some local mid-winter sales events. When I spoke to her later and asked how it went, she admitted that after taking quite some time to pick out a few great bargains for her grandchildren, she ended up with nothing.

You’ll never believe this, Rachel. While she was standing in the checkout line of this particular store, she noticed that the cashier looked very familiar. When she realized that this was someone she had known years back when she had lived in another neighborhood, she decided she wasn’t in the mood to hear the “you look so familiar…” line and to be faced with the inevitable questions that would follow.

I was incredulous when she told me she had actually placed the carefully chosen merchandise back on the racks and left empty-handed — all because she couldn’t be bothered with “meaningless chit-chat.” When I chastised her for being so ridiculously anti-social, she insisted she had more important things to do than spend her time catching up on news about people she hardly knew and would probably not see again for another thirty years.

My cousin claims she has plenty of interaction going on with others, that regular contact with her married children and other close family leaves little time for what she deems to be superficial relationships. Yeah, right. We all have (family) obligations and still manage to find time to connect with others as well.

What really irks me is when Serena appears at a family wedding, only to disappear into thin air at the height of the celebration. Her explanation the day after: She conveyed the appropriate mazel tovs, was there for the chuppah, partook of the seudah and even stayed long enough to catch a dance with the chosson’s grandmother (her aunt)… the music was ear splitting… the hour was late… etc.

I can cite many other instances to prove my point, like when she bought a treadmill so that she could enjoy walking without having to run into fellow-walkers who might Heaven forbid keep her company. And still she argues that she is not a snob, just maybe a little shy and somewhat self-conscious around people she is not close to.

I’ve known Serena for years and have always admired and respected her. We have a great relationship and are up front with one another, so I’m sure she won’t be offended by my criticisms. It’s just that I feel she is missing out — as are the people she perpetually shuns or shies away from.

A Caring Cousin

Dear Caring Cousin,

You’ve painted quite a vivid portrait of your cousin. Forgive me for asking, but can your brushstrokes by chance be a wee bit exaggerated? “Recluse” and “anti-social” are strong words. The dictionary defines the former as a person who lives in seclusion or apart of society, the latter as someone unwilling or unable to associate in a normal or friendly way with other people.

Going by your description, both are inaccurate; your cousin fits neither. She interacts plenty (with extended family) and obviously takes part in family occasions. Not waiting around to turn into a pumpkin doesn’t exactly make her anti-social. And she is hardly the only one who finds the music at such events ear-splitting (as good a reason as any for “splitting” early).

All of this aside, there are plenty of private folks around who simply prefer solitude to finding themselves part of a large gathering of people. While you may love a party, your cousin may cherish her privacy and would sooner curl up with a good book than party with you.

If you truly care for your cousin (as you claim to), you’d accept her as she is rather than ostracize her for what you perceive to be a negative attribute. She is the only one who can judge her comfort zone and energy level (as you don’t walk in her shoes and haven’t lived her life), and she is, moreover, entitled to her preference.

Your cousin, I suspect, does not take issue with your lifestyle, recognizing that no two people are alike. She furthermore sounds like the type who is comfortable in her own skin and is not afraid of being alone with her thoughts — contrary to some party animals who keep running away from theirs.

I’d give Serena some breathing room and respect our differences. And, incidentally, your pseudonym for your cousin is most apropos — considering that the word “serene” is defined as calm, peaceful and untroubled. But you knew that already, didn’t you…

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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