Part of Their World by Gevura Davis
When I was a little girl, my favorite Disney movie was The Little Mermaid. I spent my entire childhood summers in the pool, singing “Part of Your World.” I would pretend to be Ariel and twirl around underwater, dreaming of my prince and a world out there waiting for me to discover, and to be truly happy in.
Recently, that song came into my head, and I started singing it to my daughter, who hasn’t seen the film. As I started thinking about the words, I was suddenly overcome with sadness at the meaning behind the song. In retrospect, I realized I actually spent and continue to spend a tremendous amount of mental energy suffering from a similar “Ariel” syndrome. Ariel, by her own admission, has everything she needs, and yet all she wants is the one thing she can’t have: to be someone else. To be part of someone else’s world. In fact, she so much wants to be someone she is not, she is willing to give up her voice and leave behind her family and everything she knows to join a world that seems so much better, somewhere out there.
Admittedly, it is just a fairy tale, but how often do we suffer Ariel’s same fate without the happy ending? How often do we find ourselves looking out at other people’s lives and dreaming we could be living them? I suppose that’s why news organizations make an obscene amount of money reporting other people’s lives, and why we are so obsessed with reality TV. It seems that somewhere-over-the-rainbow happiness eludes us. Their grass is always perfectly green, or at least greener than ours.
The reality, of course, is that we never really understand someone else’s world until we have walked in their shoes, and as the old fable goes, by that point we would likely realize we prefer our own world. We make assumptions about other people and believe the fantasy that others’ lives are more interesting, more peaceful, more carefree and quite simply better. Of course, most of it is an illusion. We can’t understand other people’s lives. In fact, a famous study published in Psychology Central confirmed that “The longer college students spent on Facebook, the worse they felt about their own lives.”
I suffer from this, too. Life is good. Very good, in fact. I have everything I really need to be happy: a wonderful husband; amazing and healthy children; a job I Iove, find meaningful and feel valued in; many close and strong friendships; a beautiful house. And yet, I often look in on other people’s lives and wonder why I can’t be more like them. Why can’t I do more and be better at so many things? In an age when we so much see into other people’s lives, it’s easy to look through the glass and wish that we were “part of their world.” A world other than our world. A nicer house. Better clothes. A higher-paying job or more success. Kids that don’t embarrass me in public. Full-time house help and, while I’m at it, a full-time chef. An interior designer. A way to eat whatever I want and not gain weight. More inner peace. Of course, in reality, I am glad to be me, but perhaps there is a person out there with fewer challenges.
This week, we will be reading the final section of the entire Torah, Parshat V’zos Habracha. The Torah, the book of wisdom and guidance for living successful and meaningful lives, ends with Moses dispensing his final pearl of wisdom. He reiterates a unique and special blessing for the individual tribes, similar to what Jacob did on his death bed. Moses doesn’t simply give one blanket blessing. Rather, he specifies that each group will receive something special and individual to them. From this we learn a very timely and important message. People are different. Each person has a unique and special mission. Every individual will have a different life that reflects this. Our job in life is to be an active part of our world, not their – anyone else’s – world. As the saying goes, “Be you, because everyone else is taken.”
This doesn’t mean we should be content with our shortcomings and give up trying to change. Quite the contrary, we must strive to be the best us we can be. We are each blessed with tremendous potential, an unbelievable soul that G-d sent into the world to live a full and wonderful life. The key is to live our lives well with the tools and challenges G-d handcrafted uniquely for us so that we can shine, not dream about being someone else with different life circumstances.
It is not a coincidence that we are reading this section during Sukkot, the time of our happiness, according to the sages. The Torah is telling us that if we truly want to be happy, we have to live our best, unique lives. A great and wise sage, Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky (1911-2000, the Slonimer Rebbe, author of “Netsivos Shalom”) explains that happiness is being authentic, living our lives according to a purpose. Each of us is blessed with all of the skills and tools and challenges we are meant to have. Our job in life is to be the best person we can be.
My special blessing to myself and all of you is that we should learn to be content with our own worlds and never feel a desire to be part of their world.
Gevura Davis is Director of Women's Programming for Etz Chaim Philadelphia where she enjoys meeting and connecting to Jewish women of all ages and backgrounds.