So I’m a not-so-secret Dead Head. Which means that every once in a while there’s a Grateful Dead lyric or tune that gets stuck in my head. Here’s an example…
“Big boss man, can’t you hear me when I call?
You ain’t so big, you just tall, that’s just about all.”
Big Boss Man
First of all, you’ve really got to hear Pigpen’s voice in your head otherwise there’s no point in reading any further.
When we realize that the “big” people in our lives ain’t so big things typically go in one of two directions. One, we lose a sense of security. I’m thinking here of the moment when a child really understands that his parents aren’t perfect, that they don’t have all the answers, and that they’re actually just scared, flawed, broken, humble, loving human beings like he is. In these moments we lose a little bit of the certainty and comfort that reassure us that the world isn’t going to swallow us.
More interesting and more exciting is when this realization empowers us. When the bullied realizes that the bully ain’t so big or when, to bring it home to Passover, the oppressed sees the smallness of the oppressor– these moments can and should be empowering. They should leave us feeling like we too can undertake and conquer epic feats in our lives (like say, crossing the Red Sea).
On a different note. What’s the difference between being big and being tall? One way of thinking about it actually comes from Torah. The Tower of Babel was tall. In its tallness it was testament to our uncomfortableness with our smallness. Each additional brick belied our collectively fragile ego. On the other hand, Abraham and Sarah’s tent, open on all four sides, was big. It was expansive. There was room within it for laughter, love, company, revelation, food and drink.
A tall life is a sad life- rarified air not worth breathing. A big life– that’s worth building.