by Jarrett Kerbel
I will soon be celebrating the ninth anniversary of my ministry here in Chestnut Hill. During almost a decade of service I have grown to love this community and to appreciate its special character and many gifts. One gift I want to lift up and celebrate is the gift of support and caring shared between neighbors that flourishes here.
After witnessing neighbors rush to the side of the families in crisis, or transition, or in times of great joy, I gave this behavior a name. I call it the “rally around.” People here know how to rally around a neighbor in need.
I know folks who have sat with the dying night after night to give a distraught spouse a break. I know neighbors who have quietly delivered casseroles or fed the pets or gotten the kids off to school and back. I know neighbors who have stepped in to give new parents a spell of relief, walking their twins around the block while mom got a nap or took a shower.
Thousands of small acts of kindness build the fabric of our neighborhood. I celebrate each one and encourage this culture of “rallying around” to continue, spread and include all neighbors.
Of course, helping a neighbor in concrete ways in a time of crisis feels good. We can help in other – more challenging ways – too.
Much of my time is spent offering pastoral care to members of my church and folks from the community. I listen to grief, sorrow, struggle and pain, and I rejoice as folks find healing and new causes for celebration in life too. So many people who talk to me experience added distress because they believe their suffering is unique and everyone else is doing great. Loneliness adds a layer of suffering to our struggles.
For all the apparent success and achievement in this neighborhood, anyone who is paying attention also knows the shadow of suffering, loneliness, isolation, addiction, mental illness, and family dysfunction that lurks just underneath the glittering image. Underneath the mask of achievement and the illusion that “we have it all together” or “have it all figured out” live human souls with doubts, dilemmas, confusions and conflicts just like you and me.
Brad Pitt – one of my favorite actors – put it this way in a recent interview where he revealed he is in recovery from addiction to alcohol; “The fact is, we all carry pain, grief and loss,” he said. “We spend most of our time hiding it, but it’s there, it’s in you. So you open up those boxes.”
When we stop hiding and open up those boxes we become a healthier, more connected community for everyone.
So how can we rally around our neighbors for an even deeper level of support?
We can take the risk of removing our own masks and share our own struggles in appropriate ways. Think about how many people were helped by Brad Pitt’s vulnerable self-disclosure.
We can let people know we love them, accept them, and support them no matter what they are going through. We can reassure them that we will not deny their experience, their truth, even when we do not know what to say or how to respond.
We can forswear gossip, the habit of talking about people and not to them directly. By leaving gossip behind we become a safer person, a person who can be trusted with confidential sharing. We relieve the insecurity that comes with risking vulnerability.
We can also reduce our dependence on comparison and competition. So often we indulge in comparison and competition in a way that reinforces a false hierarchy of who is better and who is lesser, who is worthy and who is less worthy. Often I see people competing through their children, buying into the illusion that success solves the major existential questions of life. I have met so many parents who struggle to find supportive community when their children are suffering Each one shares with me their fear that they are the only one.
Parenting is a combination of grief and joy, and we need room for both in a community of mutually supporting parents.
We are so blessed in this neighborhood, and I truly believe we can amplify our gift for mutual support and take it deeper.
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel is rector of the Church of St. Martin-in-the Fields in Chestnut Hill