Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.
This Prepent, the eighth in the series, was written from the middle seat on a six-hour hour flight from New York to Los Angeles. It wasn’t my choice, but as I settle into my middle seat, I realize it offers a useful metaphor for how we interact with others—and a chance to reflect on my style of communication.
Perhaps, like me, you aren’t one to engage in conversation with the stranger seated next to you on flights or train rides, choosing instead to economize your movement, stick to minimum politeness, and mind your own business. But is that really possible? And, more to the point, is it healthy for the soul?
Burying my nose in my iPhone is a tempting solution, but I resist.
Our interactions encompass far more than just what we say to others. Our body language, facial gestures, even our smells, connect and disconnect us whether we’re aware of it or not. So if we’re already sitting here together, breathing the same air and navigating the same armrest, why do we insist on raising new barriers? Can we learn to trust, and to risk reaching out to others?
Oh, middle seat, symbol of this human challenge, benchmark on this journey to a more conscious life. I’m newly aware of my daily encounters with people on the subway, at school and at work, even my friends and family.
Do I reach out enough? Am I friendly? How do others perceive me based on our brief encounters?
What can I start doing to bring more connection and love to the world, instead of fear and alienation? How can I begin to see in the faces of others the face of divinity—an image of God—instead of as an invasion of my personal space?
Oh Middle Seat, literal pain in my ass, and you gift of reflection.
(My plane reading, for the record, is a lengthy exposition of theological responses to the Holocaust, and though there are a billion points of difference, American Airlines’ Boeing being, for instance, no cattle car, here I am thinking about personal space, and those cramped cars and the violation of intimacy. Even then, precisely there, the soul’s survival depended so often on the ability to be there for each other, with the other, rising above the horror to a higher human being in the world.)
Today’s intention: In our world of strangers in strange lands, what can I do to lessen alienation, inspire simples acts of human kindness, and fear less? How can I be more friendly and outgoing to the person seated next to me on the bus, living across the hall, or frowning on line in the supermarket?
Everything starts with a smile.
Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.