In A Perfect World
I love talking to all my friends, but there’s a special pleasure in chatting with those who are in the same profession as me.
There is something delightful in being able to leap over the gaps that normally separate people and, without much effort, find each other’s conversation instantly relatable. Having lunch with a friend is always fun; having lunch with a friend who is also a writer elevates the experience to sheer joy. As we compare notes about the ins and outs of writing for publication, we share a common vocabulary and, even more important, a common experience.
Actually, the writer doesn’t even have to be a friend. Talking shop with a stranger quickly turns that stranger into someone who feels like a friend. The simple fact that we both spend our time toiling over the written word and the messages we hope to impart therein helps us see our own reflection in the other’s eyes. It’s effortless. I get you, and you get me.
This truth, of course, is not limited to the writing profession. Take a peek at any gathering and you’ll see what I mean.
People are drawn, as if by an invisible magnet, to others who share their interests and experiences.
Two talmidei chachomim who find themselves seated side by side at a simcha will invariably start exchanging divrei Torah. Lehavdil, two doctors may share a lively discussion of medical advances while two lawyers compare notes about interesting legal cases. As I remarked in a recent article about birdwatching: birds of a feather invariably flock together. And, when it comes to humans, they talk together, too.
Speaking as a writer, comparing notes with someone who does what I do helps bridge the isolation of working in solitude. But even for those whose jobs do not isolate them, there is enjoyment in measuring my experience against yours. Simply by virtue of the fact that both of us were trained and are working in the same field, a bond naturally springs up between us. Because, when you get right down to it, everybody loves to talk shop.
But the guiding principle extends far beyond a job or profession. When the circumstances or experiences of your life are shared by someone else, you feel connected. That is the reason why women’s magazines have gained so much popularity over the past few decades. Every woman feels as if she’s struggling on her own with her particular situation, cut off from the world of people who have no idea what she’s going through… until she reads a piece by someone who is going through the same thing.
Her difficult circumstances may not have changed, but her feeling about it has. She is not alone.
People have different tastes in literature. For some, their preferred choice of reading material will be escapist in nature. When they read a book, they want it to take them far away into the wild blue yonder. They wish to curl up with something as far from their own experience as possible. A story that is exotic, exciting, and far more adventurous than their own humdrum lives could ever be.
Others take the opposing view. They prefer a tale that firmly reflects their own day-to-day lives, their personal reality and the way they feel about it. Reading an exotic tale may be entertaining, but devouring a story about people just like her, with challenges like her own, leaves her feeling connected, at least, and inspired at best.
Travelers often follow a similar pattern. Two people, visiting the same location, may have startlingly opposite reactions.
Some have a hankering to explore the unknown down to its depths. Their itinerary will include mingling with the natives to see how the other half lives. They will feast their eyes on far-flung wonders they have never seen before, and revel in the experience. The more different from what they already know, the better.
But there are individuals who, when traveling the globe, take their own little world with them wherever they go. Their ears are ever attuned to other travelers who speak their language. They will seek out eateries that have the kind of food they enjoyed in their own native neighborhoods. If they feast their eyes on the exotic, it is mostly to capture its likeness in a photo that they can share with their friends and family back home.
As a nation, we Jews have been forced into the role of perpetual globe trotters. From country to country, from continent to continent, our people have repeatedly pulled up stakes and then put them down again. In the process, we have rubbed up against myriad cultures and cultural norms.
Although we’ve appreciated that which has been wise or beautiful in those cultures, always, throughout two millennia of enforced travel, our goal has been like that of those travelers whose hearts yearn for the sound of a familiar tongue, the sight of a familiar mode of dress. In the throes of learning to get along and even to shine in whatever place we may find ourselves, we dream of home.
As proud members of klal Yisroel, our thoughts and conversations revolve around our mutual experiences as Hashem’s children and loyal guardians of His Torah. When one Jew meets another, especially when he is far from home and his own kind, there is a light of happy recognition in each pair of eyes. A settling down to compare notes. A basking in the sense of connection that requires no time at all to turn stranger into friend. Or, rather, into family.
His words will tumble over themselves in his eagerness to express what is in his heart, because he knows that he will find the same thing in the other’s. Every sentence will find its mate, every thought its reflection. In a world where we can easily be made to feel alien and different, we have found something precious. Someone who, on the deepest level, really understands.
When that happens, it can be hard to tear yourself away. Because, when you come right down to it, everybody loves to talk shop.