I abhor connections. When asked to identify myself, I offer only my first name unless pressed. I will not try to figure out how many acquaintances we have in common; I will speak of my friends using pronouns and deliberately avoid mention of anyone we both might know.
I am not ashamed of myself or my past or my family; but in a world of increasing interconnectedness, I have come to realize that it is far more likely to be known than unknown, and familiarity breeds (within me) contempt. I am not excited to discover that you went to the same high school as my brother; that my sister was your counselor at camp; that you leased your apartment from my former chevruta. These connections do not impress or surprise me.
When sitting at a Shabbat meal among a group of total strangers, I can be almost 100% certain that at least one person at the table knows at least one member of my family. I am always told that I look “so familiar; are you sure we haven’t met?” No, actually, in all likelihood we have. But I have developed a standard response to deflect these curious questioners: “Oh, people often tell me that I look familiar. I’ve decided that I have a generic face.” (God in His heaven lend her grace.)
Everyone else around me seems compelled to seek out these points of commonality as if they were rare gems buried beneath our superficial exchanges of pleasantries. Nearly every gathering of peers that I attend devolves into a game of “Jewish geography.” I can play out the scripts in my head by now; they inevitably make me groan. The moment you tell me you are from Ottawa, I know you know Dina Fine; do I really need to prove that to you? My world is so small; what is the sense in making it any smaller? Can’t we at least pretend that there are still new connections to be forged; new possibilities to discover; new chances to prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet?
I long for a world where all the strings are cut loose and we are not bound to labels and expectations. I wish to be free to remake myself in the moment; to be what I will be. To say that I-will-be has sent me. I want you to know me only as the person who is standing before you right now; I wanted to be taken at face value; I want to be the one to determine what comes into your head the next time you think of me.
If I deliberately avoid drawing connections; if I do not let on that I know the person you are describing; if I fail to identify you by name in your absence – please do not take offense. It is not because I dislike you; it is not because you embarrass me; it is not because I wish to renounce any association with you. Most often this could not be farther from the truth. I am blessed with many wonderful people in my life; I am honored to be known by them all. Several of nature’s people / I know, and they know me; / I feel for them a transport / Of cordiality. When you smile at me, I will always smile back with a full and bursting heart. But this one direct connection is enough. If you seize the other end of the filament I am unreeling, I can stop ever tirelessly speeding them. Once the bridge between us is forged and the gossamer anchor holds, I feel no need to weave an elaborate web. The ductile thread has already caught somewhere, O my soul.