So I'm having a problem with love. I'm empty. I don't have any left, or so it feels. I've been pouring out without tapping into the pouring in. I know that there is love pouring into me all of the time. But I don't seem to have the vessel to hold it. It doesn't make much sense. I want the love, I pray for it, I feel for it like a desperate groper in a dark cave. I know it's there, and I'm not able to hold it enough to feel at peace and pour it into my family.

Recently I have noticed how much I seek approval. From everyoneRecently I have noticed how much I seek approval. From everyone. In everything that I do. In the house, the sewing, cleaning, cooking. When I get dressed in the morning, I think about who I'll be seeing during the day, and how they would want me to look. Even in my prayers and good deeds I'm looking for the Divine stamp of approval. And how sometimes even when I get it, it doesn't fill me or make me feel good. At least not for long. The inner bitterness has its way of corroding external praise.

Not that doing the right thing and getting approval are bad per se. But it's a demeaning way to live. I want to do what's right because I believe in a greater good. Because I have a little role to fill in this universe. Not because Aunt Elvira always tells me that I look slimmer in black. I want to serve G‑d for His will, to be His partner in His Desire, not to get his stamp of approval like a band-aid to get me through the day.

There have been times when I felt full enough that the love could spill over. I think of Miriam, who adopted a Down syndrome child when most of her ten kids were married off. Because she could. Because she loves. She seems to me the perfect example of this. I've never asked her about it, and maybe I should. She is so full of love, joy, holiness, all of that good stuff, it just oozes and spills over all she touches. It comes without demands or manipulation, and flows without conditions on its recipients.

I wonder if she was always like that? If her parents did something right? Or if that is a choice that a person can make for themselves, if it's something that she worked on and became? I'm so lacking in it. I don't think that she is much easier on herself than I am — she accomplishes so very much. But there isn't an ounce of cynicism or bitterness in her. She's less of a perfectionist, but more perfected. Sometimes I feel like my very cells are screaming with self-hatred, or if not that, then an emptiness, a yearning for someone to scoop me up, fix me and make it all okay. It hasn't happened yet.

I'm also afraid to get close. I yearn for love, closeness and companionship, but I am also very afraid of it. I'm afraid of becoming attached, I'm afraid of depending on somebody and getting hurt, getting let down. When my husband and I first got married we had some wonderful moments. Then we had crushing moments. Then when more wonderful moments came I was a little less in them, I was holding back. The less invested I am here, the less the next bite will hurt. Maybe it was a coping tool I learned early on. But it didn't really help, because it still hurt. Again and again. Now I feel that I have lost my capacity to trust, to love and be close. But I haven't gone numb, so it still hurts.

I feel that I have lost my capacity to trust, to love and be close. But I haven't gone numb, so it still hurtsI don't want to pass the pain on to my kids. I want them to have love and closeness with me and with others. But I see that as much as my revealed love for them is in the home, my hidden hatred of myself creates a stinging bubble around me that fills the house when I hit bottom.

I wonder if I was always like this? I used to be very close with friends, as open and real with them as I was with myself, I think. What happened? Is this something within me that I absorbed from my parents? Is it the same pain that helped me put on fifty pounds in the year that I came home after they had separated? How do I heal that? I don't even want to touch it. But I would if I could fix it. I think that maybe as the most sensitive one in the family, I might have just absorbed the pain, perfectionism and cynicism of my parents.

When their marriage failed, I symbolized to them their shattered dreams, their failure to make good on a pledge that they had made with all of their hearts. They did once love each other very much. They yearned and prayed for me, a child to fill their home and complete the vision of harmony. I know that they love me very much. But when their dream shattered, the betrayal that they both felt, Hey, this person is supposed to complete me, make me good, successful, full of life's bounty and grace, how could they… They were both in too much pain to face the reality that they had built and crushed in me.

They also gave me their genes, and a good dose of brains. I guess they figured that someday, somehow, I'd figure it out. They did love me and believe in me. Their divorce was about as nice as they come. They were careful not to hurt me, and even sent me to a therapist for a year just to me sure that I would be okay. I don't think it was how they treated me that hurt most—it was their own dripping, brooding pain that their homes secreted. My parents didn't want to hurt me. But they were hurting. That's what worries me most. That I will hurt my children, not by how I treat them, but because the pain that my own heart bleeds.

A sage once blessed me and said that I have a very good chance to raise these daughters to build beautiful Jewish families. That is what I want most. I don't want to pass it on. I would love to heal myself, but it is not for myself.

That's it, I'm calling Miriam.

"Hello?"

"Rikki! Hello, how are you dear, so wonderful to hear from you!"

"Miriam, can I ask you a question, maybe a strange question?"

"Sure Rikki, how can I help you?"

My parents didn't want to hurt me. But they were hurting"Well, I just wondering… Every time I see you, you seem to be so full with joy and peace, and your love just seems to spill over and warm everyone in your orbit. Were you born like that? Is it something that you worked on and developed? Is it a gift that you prayed for and received? Can you give me a little bit of instructions on how I can get from point A to point B?"

"Oh Rikki, you say the sweetest things. You warmed my heart. You probably only see that in me because you are the same way, you also radiate serenity and warmth. But no, I was not always like that. I was certainly a lot more fiery in my youth. Life's turns and tumbles have their ways of softening a person's edges. And it's not something that I asked for in my prayers per se. But I did ask G‑d to make me a vessel to be able to give the very most I possibly can to the people around me, my husband, children and friends, and the people that I meet. I ask G‑d to help me love them and give to them as much as I possibly can, and that I should be able to see His Hand in everything."

"Thank you, Miriam."

"Oh Rikki, we're so blessed."

But Miriam, is it really that easy? You did say that it took years. Did you say that I too radiate serenity and warmth? That's interesting. Why don't I see it that way?

Oh my soul. Filled with Divine light and knowledge beyond the confines of my mortal mind. Am I just a link in the pain chain? I could blame my mother. I could blame Hitler and how he affected my father. I'll bet that my parents could blame theirs. We could pass it all the way back to Adam who blamed Eve. Where would that get us? My soul, how great is our power? How far can we reach? Can we dare to touch the depth of this pain, in the hopes that by kneading it with our raw heart we might bring change? Do I have the strength of character to haul my mouth into a smile, and force it to take root in embodied compassion? Can I be the link that turns the chain to gain? Oh my soul…