The beauty of our generation is that we can never let go.
I first learned this bittersweet lesson in the Fall of 2008 when I had my first great romantic failure. It was the era of social media, the time in which no one could ever get rid of anyone because they were always one click away.
Not mentally, anyway.
In the pre-social media days, a person you didn’t see again was over and done with, a faint footnote in the entire book of your life. A beloved you couldn’t see, hear, or touch? It might as well be that he no longer existed. Even if he was 5 blocks away, he was in a different world: a parallel universe.
Once upon a time, you could forget about someone. Your two life roads would stretch across the countryside, existing in parallel, but never intersecting.
Not so in the world I grew up in. In the world of social media, I was constantly reminded of those of which I would sooner forget. Always I had our old conversations to look through, the careful documentation of every turn of phrase, passive aggressive comment, uplifting words of support, melodic moments of reassurance. My beloved’s pseudo-identity, like the holographic version of the real self, but so much more flat and vacuous, still stared back at me as I switched my attention back and forth between solving mathematical formulas for calculus class and digging relentlessly back into our online past.
In short, social media drove me crazy with longing.
Somehow when things ended and it was time to say goodbye, I could still have a relationship. A one-sided relationship with no talking, no seeing, no give and take…. But the love on my end could continue existing. For as long as I wanted to until time itself stopped, I could maintain my connection to those I had once loved….if I was deranged enough to keep them alive in every click of my mouse.
Years of therapy and the repeat of the same pattern – the inability to let go – drilled into me the idea that to linger is unhealthy, degrading, addictive. To linger was to imprison yourself in the past, unable to unlock the doors to live once again.
Yet almost a decade later, happily married and having released the guilt of my obsessions, I cannot shake off a perverse thought still: was there something pure and beautiful in the inability to let someone go?
The Torah commands us to love. To love our fellow Jew and God. Both entities, the mortal and the eternal, are not so easy to love. Fellow Jews make us suffer and so too does God. Fellow Jews inflict salt on our wounds and so too does God. To love either is to make a conscious effort to battle a growing hatred in our heart for the things done to us that we will either never understand, or whose raw explanations will never be sufficient for us to forgive the perpetrator. Yet even in these moments of bitterness towards Jews and God that burden us with worldly suffering, there is still love…. Because they and He are at the least still speaking to us. Though at times they inflict us with pain, we are like the neglected youth. For the attention-starved child, even negative reactions, even punishment, can fill some aspect of a child’s desire. Even the yelling and the hurting and the anger and G-d forbid the beatings gives the child acknowledgement, at least the illusion of a twisted form of caring. What’s worse than the constant wrath inflicted by a parent onto his child is for the relationship to be dead, devoid of looks, words, and acts than mean anything for anyone.
When our beloved go silent, that’s when we are truly lost.
What does Golus (exile) truly mean? It is worse that God’s wrath or anger, then the prophets screamed of our iniquities and the coming destruction of our nation. It is worse than the destruction of the temples 1st and 2nd. Past the era of prophecy, God is silent. He does not impose his presence on us. We can go about our lives, and if He is watching and listening, we can (if we so choose) hardly know it. God is our stealthy stalker, observing our lives from a distance, but never revealing the extent of His yearning with even one direct word.
In the natural order of things, in the pre-obsessed era, God and I would inevitably part ways. What is a relationship in which one partner does not talk, does not acknowledge, does not even release his wrath against you? What would our therapists say, if they could advise us on our relationship with God as they do with man? Would they tell us to linger on a Beloved that doesn’t speak to us? Would they defibrillate our hearts with the warmth of memories past, of when God still spoke to us and we still listened?
The beauty of our generation is that we never let go. The people who touched our lives will always be in our sight, only as forgotten as we allow ourselves to deliberately look away from their joy and pain, from their continued existence.
This is the gift of our obsessive, deranged online world: people will stop loving us, but we never have to stop loving them. We can continue to love or hate them from afar, foaming with hatred like demons or with love like the guardian angels said to hover over us. We never forget those we loved. Maybe it is sickness, maybe it is beauty, maybe it is both. All I know is that in some part of me the longing is reminiscent of our holy longing for Hashem. Though He does not speak, we will never stop looking in His direction, waiting for the moment for him to redeem our relationship with all-encompassing emotion: pure love or pure hatred..but never silence.
We circle one another, spy upon spy, waiting for one another. Will our longing bring us recognition, as God is all knowing and sees our everlasting desperation for him? Or will He himself give in to His all-consuming love for us, unrevealed beneath that veneer of uncaring silence?