In modern Judaism in the United States, it is customary to give your child two names--one a secular, English name and the other a Hebrew name. Hebrew names always have a meaning--it's an important part of Jewish culture. I have known my Hebrew name my whole life, but I never knew what it meant until I went to Israel this past March."Nechama," he said, the letters of my Hebrew name rolling off his tongue smoothly and naturally, "means compassion." "It's a beautiful name, but it comes with a lot of responsibility. It's your responsibility to care for and help your family and loved ones."
At first his words stung. I slowed my pace and dropped back from the hiking group, allowing myself to be alone on the trail that snaked through hills and hills of yellow wildflowers in northern Israel, along the border of Lebanon. With each thump of my hiking boot against the hard, packed dirt, dizzying thoughts rushed into my mind--I don't deserve my name. I haven't been living up to my responsibility. I don't have the capacity to care. I can't live up to the responsibility I have been given. I don't want the responsibility. I didn't ask for this.
I thought of my father who I can't seem to forgive for all that he did to me as a child. I thought of how I gave up on my junkie (ex)step-sister and her new baby. I thought of how I don't talk to my grandparents as much as I should because of my strained relationship with their son. I thought of my tendency to drop out of people's lives when I feel we are growing apart.
Images of every person I had ever given up on or let down swirled in my head until my mind simply went blank.
With my mind quiet, I again became aware of the buzz of the bees busily moving from flower to flower. The happy voices of my fellow group members hung in the air around me, and the babble of the stream became audible. I found comfort in my steady hiking pace. One foot in front of the other.
Then it happened. Acceptance.
I am a compassionate person, but I can't care about everyone. It's OK to pick and choose those who are worthy of my concern. I can't help everyone, and that's OK. There's simply not room in my heart for the disappointment and pain that so often comes from caring to much. Those in my life who are good, those in my life who are deserving, they are the ones I have a responsibility to.
Nechama. A name I've had my entire life suddenly meant so much.