Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Weekday Morning 4 AM: Loyalty

This wasn’t the post I’d intended on writing this week. I had another one all prepared, with cartoons and humorous asides all ready to go, and it was a topic I’m passionate about, and writing it took a lot out of me (as anyone I discussed it with can confirm). But as they say, the universe has other plans, and now I find myself compelled to put aside that much-better written and more controversial post in favor of what is essentially just an ode to loyalty. I can’t help it. What pops into my head stays in until I put it down on keyboard.

Loyalty is an admirable quality, I think we can all agree. And loyalty at the best of times, frankly, shouldn’t even be called that. Because you’re not sticking with someone or something for real unless you can also do it when you’re not on the best terms with them.

I’m not talking about a betrayal, like posting your deepest secrets on facebook or saying nasty things to your friends behind your back. I’m just referring to mild, but still taxing, annoyances: When your friend is bugging the snot out of you with the same issue over and over. When your family is making constant demands. When you find yourself tested by God or by people. That’s when your sense of loyalty (if you’ve got it, of course) shows itself for real. And I got a major test of it this week.

The truth is, I’ve been complaining to some of my closer friends recently about how, if there’s such a thing and if I think I actually merit it, I’m definitely being tested. I know, I know. How much of an inflated ego do I need to think I actually merit a test from God? But as one friend so wisely articulated in a way I couldn’t quite express, even if it’s not meant as a test, it can still be one for she who feels it. It can be testing my patience, my persistence, and my character. But I digress.

Lately I’ve been feeling like every step I take is being graded, kind of like an extended, constant driver’s exam.

And so naturally, I’ve been on an extra sort of guard to make sure I’m doing the right thing, if only so I can sleep at night. It’s a difficult situation at times, and I’m sure I don’t always make the right choices. But I try my best, and most of the time I think I’m doing okay.

I often compare this feeling of being tested to being in a fight with a friend and then having to defend them to someone meaner and much, much smarter than you. Like having a lifelong buddy who you suddenly find yourself at odds with, who you really just want to avoid until things cool off, and out of nowhere there’s someone (usually a friend, not someone you could especially peg as hostile), who in trying to comfort you will declare “I never liked him anyway”, or “Yeah, he always was a bit of a jerk.”

And now you’re stuck. Because here you are, talking to someone who’s sympathetic, and let’s face it, agrees with you. Because even if you’re super close with the person you’re discussing, right now they’re a jerk to you. And probably all you want to do is shoot your mouth off about how betrayed you feel and how awful they are.

But if you do it, you know you’re only going to feel terrible about it later. Besides the whole issue of Lashon Hara, you haven’t given up on your friendship; you’re just going through a rough patch. You haven’t declared them an enemy. And even if you did, does that mean getting so petty as to bash them behind their back?

And then, even if you manage to stick by them and prove your loyalty, there’s the feeling afterward that they should be THANKING you.

But hey, in most such instances they don’t even know what you’ve done. And that makes it even more difficult to stay by their side if they keep annoying you after the initial test has passed.

And that’s a test of loyalty. It’s the test I feel I’ve been on the business end of a lot lately, not so much with people, but with concepts. It’s a little harder to explain loyalty to concepts and philosophies and instincts and beliefs when they’re challenged, because no one can really call you a bad person for bashing an idea, especially one that’s not clearly right or wrong. It’s a test that’s been bugging me for weeks, distracting me during social events and occupying my mind on the train.

But like I said, despite a few lapses and moments of anger, I think I’ve been doing okay. So much so I didn’t think I would need to face this same test on a person-to-person basis so soon, in a way that mattered so much to me.

But this week, sure enough, the Universe decided to up the ante a bit. I suddenly found myself extremely annoyed at someone I’m close to. The reason behind it was fairly stupid. It wasn’t a fight, disagreement, or even a misunderstanding, just an unpleasant surprise in their behavior. Like when you call out to someone that you’re going to jump down to them, and suddenly they get distracted.

Just an instance of a missed catch, and nothing malicious, but enough to be annoying, especially when your relationship isn’t without its tensions in the first place. And then, just a day or two ago came the loyalty test. I’d just been reminded by someone of my annoyance at this person, and was trying to get it out of my head, when I received a call from someone I hadn’t spoken to in a while. And they brought up a topic, which let’s just say made it worse. Here, let’s use a cartoonist’s best friend, hypothetical allegory.

To my readers who know me personally, don’t try to figure out who the person is, what they did, and what this offer was. It is absolutely nothing remotely similar to the cartoon. You won’t figure it out, because I haven’t discussed it with anyone, nor will I attempt to now.

Wow, was this test difficult. Much harder than I’d initially thought. In the end, I didn’t fall for the bait, and stuck by my friend despite the fact that the thing I’m annoyed about hasn’t been resolved. And that doesn’t matter, because like time and a swallowed nickel, I know it will pass by itself.

But then why did I come up with this post at 4:30 in the morning, unable to sleep? Why did I wake up out of a nightmare involving this very scenario? Why was I convinced at that moment that I could sense someone there, judging me, like seeing someone out of the corner of your eye or smelling their perfume/cologne?

I have no idea, other than perhaps that I don’t like the idea that I had to be tested in the first place. Maybe I’d thought my relationship with this person was stronger. Maybe because I know that even though I did the right thing now, that’s no guarantee that I always will. Maybe because by sticking by this person now, I’ve effectively shot myself in the foot with someone else, even though that person in this case was wrong, wrong, wrong, and has been wrong before. Loyalty is never as simple or as easy as it seems.

Do the right thing, they say. Well, I think I have. And yet, here I was at 4:30, needing to be up in 3 hours to go to work, and I was agonizing over some sin I hadn't even committed. What am I supposed to say to that? And what to do with it? I guess I've just got to keep on doing what I've been doing, and hope that I continue to make decisions I can be proud of.


  1. At the end of the day, it's your life. Gotta live it. Can't worry about everyone else. I know this is the same sappy crap you hear from everyone/everything, but you have to ignore and move on.

  2. Ha. Funny. Because i think just over shabbas, the rabbi in shul talked about how loyalty seems (at first glance) like a good character trait, but in Judaism we need to be loyal to beliefs rather than people. Ex: If people are doing the wrong thing, one shouldn't be okay with it and not say anything because they are right, but should be loyal to their morals and beliefs and tell the people they are doing the wrong thing. Which it sorta seems like you did. Power to you :) Just a thought.


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