Make New Friends, But Maintain Old Connections

By Wendy Belzberg

Published March 21, 2003, issue of March 21, 2003.

I have an old friend from high school who calls periodically to get together. Over the past 20 years we have drifted apart and have nothing left in common but our past. I don’t have enough time in my life to spend with the people who are important to me, but since I don’t want to hurt her feelings, I agree to meet. When we are together I resent the time I am giving up.

— Lost connection

Other than your parents, whose view of your past does not necessarily conform to your own, how many people are there in your life who knew you when? Is there anyone left who appreciates the child, the adolescent and the struggling adult you once were? You underestimate the profound value of a common past — someone who remembers the bad eye-makeup and sequined hot pants, callow boyfriends, stolen cigarettes and parental battles. One or two dinners a year with this friend does not seem like a huge sacrifice. But if you really don’t want to go, just say no. There is a polite way to do so without hurting your friend’s feelings. Otherwise, the next time she calls have a stiff drink and head off to revisit a part of your life that might otherwise remain buried.

* * *

What do you think is the best way to promote unity among Jews? What could we do to promote the kind of respect between all Jews that would, by example, make us a model for all nations?

— In search of a model

The best way to promote unity among any group is one person at a time. Respect among individuals appears to be in short supply, and Jewish individuals are no exception. Set your sights on a modest and attainable goal, such as harmony between yourself, your children and your loved ones. Once you’ve attained that goal, talk to your rabbi, the principal of your local high school and your fellow congregants. Come up with a philosophy and a concrete plan that you can implement in your community. Show success in your own community, and maybe you can become a role model for Jews everywhere. Throw prayer into the mix — it may not help, but it couldn’t hurt.

* * *

My sister and I share responsibility for our aging parents. My sister is a devoted daughter, but she has a terrible temper. When she gets frustrated with my parents she calls them idiots or morons. I once spoke to my sister about this, and she defended her right to “call it as she saw it.” My mother sometimes phones me in tears after my sister leaves, but does not want to confront her and risk losing her affections. When my mother mentioned this to my sister’s husband — whom she openly berates at family events — he shrugged his shoulders and said that she will never change.

— Time to zip loose lips

There is no statue of limitations on parenting. Perhaps if your mother had issued a zero-tolerance decree earlier on, your grown sister would not still be indulging in the impulsive behavior usually reserved for the under-12 set. This has clearly been going on for a long time. Everyone, including her own battered husband, has colluded long enough. It is never easy to stop or change a behavior, but it is virtually impossible if no one is demanding that you do so. Once your parents are no longer alive, your sister will need a new target for her outbursts, and you may well be it. If not for your sister’s sake then for your own, draw the line now between what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Enlist the support of your brother-in-law and parents as well. Believe me, plenty of people will thank you, perhaps one day even your sister.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at wendy@forward.com.



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