This Is Your Comfort Zone

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The golden rectangle reads: “This Is Your Comfort Zone,” according to an article I skimmed about a TV show I will probably never see. The entire second season promises to exist outside said comfort zone. Presumably a devil-may-care attitude about drugs, illicit romance, sexual identity, and stalking is enough to guarantee a second season.

Rabbi Mark Weider
Rabbi Mark Weider

This is not to say that I have not watched some fairly gritty TV shows, including some where I have felt emotionally invested with characters doing some despicable things (Breaking Bad, anyone?). Perhaps this is a way to expand my comfort zone vicariously.

I thought of many ways I could write about comfort zones; about how Jewish and family values play into decisions we make; about the role of self-discipline in our lives, and on and on, but the way the issue struck me was about how caring for our elders can consistently pull us out of our comfort zones.

For some of us, dealing with bureaucracies is uncomfortable: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid forms, with their attendant rules and regulations, can drive us to distraction. For others, searching for proper venues for care is a huge stressor. And many of us in the so-called sandwich generation need to exit our comfort zones not only in caring for elders, but for ourselves and children and/or grandchildren.

We may have the financial resources to bring outside help to bear on our problems. There are attorneys who can help get our ducks in the row to get a partner or parent into a nursing home, financial advisors who can guide us in preparing for a range of contingencies, etc. We might find a plausible answer to a question, or begin to plot a seemingly sensible path to action through browsing the internet. Even with this ammunition at hand we may feel we’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Often it helps to have others to commiserate with, especially if family members or friends don’t want to hear our tsouris (troubles) any more. For example, we have a monthly caregivers’ support group at River Garden, and local hospitals have programs for those dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease.

It occurs to me that the differences between these two types of comfort zones, whether those having to do with morality or those involving decisions based on emerging needs has to do with our attitudes. What’s problematic for me (“stupid paperwork…”) may not be problematic for you; what’s problematic for you, I may take in stride.

Attitudes, however, are subject to change. Without necessarily wearing our hearts on our sleeves, we can be more transparent about what’s going on in our lives. We can share our situations, and examine what we’re doing to get beyond our challenges (it may be too much for now to look at them as opportunities!). We can ask for help. And sometimes we may need to accept things just as they are, for now.

And just as importantly, even if we have a boatload of personal needs, we still can be of help to others. As Hillel was accustomed to say (Pirke Avot, 1:14), “If I am not for myself who will be for me? Yet, if I am for myself only, what am I? And if not now, when?” We must be strong advocates for ourselves and our loved ones, reach out to help others, and perhaps most importantly, take action.

At times I feel stalled, and take a while to take action. And I’ve often wondered afterward, filled with relief, what took me so long. I will continue to work on that. Whatever it is you need to work on, chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik. May we learn to be strong, increase our strength, and strengthen each other.

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