Tag Archives: interconnectedness

We’re All in This Together

ב”ה     الحمد لله

It’s a lovely time of year.  We’re in the middle of Hanukah, the Jewish festival of lights commemorating religious freedom and miracles in olden times.  And of course many folks are experiencing the spirit of Christmas.  And some celebrate Kwanza, or Winter Solstice or what have you.  It feels like the time of year when we all, in our own ways, try to open our hearts to our fellows and celebrate our common humanity.  Which is a lovely thing to do.

It’s a contrast from the rest of the year.  In our everyday mentally we often walk around seeing everyone as distinct and separate.  We may try to see a G-dly light emanating from their soul, but our picture of the world is usually like this:

menorah_top

Everyone doing their their best to shine forth their light.  On a good day, we can give each other the benefit of the doubt and see that we’re all created in the image of G-d.

But for me, the miraculous beauty of this time of year is that we have an opportunity, when so many of us are opening our hearts, of seeing that we’re all in this together.  We all breathe the same air, we live on the same planet, what we do affects each other in ways large and small, seen and unseen.  And we all struggle with the daily choices we have, wherein we try to be the best person we can, we try to make the choices that we’ll look back on later and smile at a moment well lived, well done.  And sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we wish we had a “do over”.  But it’s the same for all of us, here on this earth, and our choices affect each other every day, from whether we hug our children to whether we smile at the passersby; whether we let someone into the lane ahead of us, or whether we visit the sick, aid the poor, comfort the distressed.

Because we’re all connected, we’re all in this together.

The reality of our situation, when we have the eyes of wisdom to see it, is really more like:

menorah

May we find it within our hearts to love our neighbor as our self during this holiday season.

And may G-d bless you, every one.

Advertisements

Walking the Walk

ב”ה     الحمد لله

As I posted previously, I’ve been living here in Oakland and wondering what to do to connect with the larger community here, especially in light of the latest police-related deaths.  And then, in what felt like a gracious gift from On High, I got an email from my stepson’s school, which listed a protest march scheduled for Saturday.  The exquisite way this event fit into my life and schedule is hard to describe, but I’ll try.

  • I don’t always immediately read through the school emails, but this one I did
  • The event was billed as a peaceful demonstration, appropriate for family and kids
  • The organizers were calling for specific action, rather than just expressing anger/outrage
  • The timing was the afternoon on the Sabbath, comfortably after morning services and the kiddush lunch that follows, a time when I’m always free
  • The location was a half hour walk from the synagogue.

This last point was crucial, since on the Sabbath my only mode of transportation is my feet!

And boy did I use them yesterday.  Approximately nine miles, all told.  But it was great to see all walks of life walking together, a spectrum of ages, a range of colors, all united in purpose.

I felt connected, purposeful, and part of something larger than myself.

So it was a nice first step, if you will.

And today, the ache in my legs feels like a well-earned reminder of precious time on this earth well spent.

What are you thinking?

ב”ה

light_bulb

So I’m driving along on a California freeway, six lanes in each direction.  Six lanes.  The traffic is relatively light, so we can all choose whatever lane we want.  But I notice no one drives in the rightmost “slow” lane; my fellow drivers are spread out across the remaining five lanes.  Is there a stigma to that “slow” lane?  Indeed, the driver in the left-most “fast” lane is going the slowest of all.

I realize I’d like to pass, which I would have to do on the right, but I can’t because the driver in that lane is also going relatively slowly.  And I find myself growing annoyed at this situation.  “What are these drivers thinking?” I ask myself.  If they want to drive slowly — fine!  Pick a slow lane.  Why dawdle in a fast lane?  If we all chose our lanes thoughtfully and cooperatively, everyone could go just the speed they want.  No problem.

And it’s not just these two drivers, either.  All five left lanes have relatively slow cars in them.  Cars approaching from the rear that want to speed along have to weave in and around many of these sluggish cars.  In fact, the irony is that the fastest drivers end up using the slowest lane a lot, because it’s usually empty, creating the dangerous situation where the fastest vehicles and the slowest merging on-ramp traffic vie for the same space.  Crazy.

“Why, why, why?” I self-righteously ask as I shake my head and condemn my fellow travelers’ lack of safe and considerate driving choices.  And, just moving here from the Midwest, I leap to the stereotypical explanation that Californians in general are so caught up in their own experience that they are oblivious to the needs of the other drivers around them.  Unfair, I grant you, but that’s where my mind goes.

So I pause.  I take a breath and remind myself that G-d has created this moment for me for a reason. What might He want me to learn from it?

The thought blossoms in my mind: is this how we look from On High?  We’re all going about our daily individual lives, caught up in our own experiences, our own families, our own Facebook pages, and all the while–  people relatively nearby don’t have enough food to eat, families lack shelter, children face terrible schools, whole communities are losing hope.  There’s a crisis demanding our attention, and yet we go trudging along, day by day, seemingly oblivious to the fact that our inaction keeps such a system in place.

What are we thinking?

G-d seems to have infinite patience with us, but I have to say, “Why, why, why?”  Why are we, one of the richest nations on earth, failing to provide for our fellows in such obvious ways?  Do we really think it’s fair and good the way things are for the least well off?  That their suffering is somehow their own fault?  Even the kids growing up in some of these neighborhoods and schools?

I had a conversation recently with my soon-to-be brother-in-law.  When we look back at the 50s, we wonder how people could tolerate such a blatantly racist system of separate public bathrooms and schools, sitting in the back of the bus, and so forth.  Surely we would never have been so complacent, right?  But what will generations hence say about our tolerating the huge inequity in school systems between rich and poor communities?  The glaring and increasing gap between the rich and poor overall?

Lovely questions to ask, I say to myself.  Ultimately, I’m asking these questions of myself, Gentle Reader.  And I’m not at all sure what I’m going to do about this.  When I was younger I did social work for a time, helping families in difficult situations.  We didn’t solve all their problems, but I know I did feel, at the end of the day, that I’d made some kind of positive difference in their lives.

But I feel we need some kind of systemic change here; a more widespread change of awareness, a change of heart.  We need to find ways of working cooperatively, not just on the highway, but in communities as well.

I feel this acutely myself right now.  Moving to Oakland, where plenty of folks are suffering, I find it difficult to contemplate taking a six-figure computer job and just ignoring their plight only a stone’s throw from my house.

Part of the difficulty, I think we all readily admit, is that these problems seem so large and intractable that we don’t know where to start.  So we don’t start, and we end up doing nothing at all.  Which is clearly unsatisfying.  Even volunteering one weekend a month would be better than nothing.  But somehow that feels inadequate as well.

And this is something I need to figure out.  It’s bothering me.  I can’t just poke along behind the slow moving driver in front of me, thinking self-righteous thoughts.  I need to act.

Gentle Reader, what do you suggest I do?

The garden of my relationships

ב”ה

I prefer to eat organic food.  I’m sure that the conventional produce is grown only with the finest synthetic pesticides available for ingestion, but… no thank you.  I was amused when a comedian (Jimmy Fallon?) quipped, “‘organic food’, or, as our grandparents used to call it: ‘food'”.  We have introduced so many man-made chemicals into our food supply that we have a special name for food grown with only naturally occurring elements.

Water seems to be following a similar path.  I remember as a child drinking water from fountains and faucets everywhere we went.  But now, we have bottled water.  Bottled water!  We actually pay money for a plastic container filled with water.  Unthinkable when I was young.  But in these modern days the water that came into my sink in Saint Louis Park (Minnesota) had such a taste that I used to trudge to the co-op and shlep jugs of “reverse-osmosis” water home.  If I remember my son’s school project correctly, this is due to an old creosote processing plant in the area that closed over forty years ago.  Forty years, and the water still tastes awful.  We reap what we sow.

So today I was wondering about air.  Is that the next basic human commodity that we will poison to such an extent that we’ll bottle “fresh air” and make it available at every gas station across the country?

Okay.  “Simmer down, Shimon,” I hear you murmur.  Things aren’t that bad.  And if that were the sum total of my curmudgeon-mind musings this morning, I probably would not have posted.

But, tonight, the Jewish new year begins, and it’s time to evaluate all of our relationships and take a fearless and searching moral inventory.  What to make amends for, what to change, what to foster and encourage.

And it got me thinking: am I so consumed by my own struggles that, like a creosote plant, I’m slowly polluting the environment around me?  Am I taking my relationships with those around me for granted?  They are my lifeline, my source of comfort and strength.   Am I tending to the garden of my relationships with enough natural and organic elements of my heart, or am I giving rote and mechanical effort, too much synthetic pesticide?

I have to be here, that I know.  I have to inhabit the moments I’m given.  Because children grow up quickly, and grown-ups can leave suddenly, and before we know it, we’re looking back over our lives, wondering where the time and the people went and, often, wishing we had done things differently.

How can I avoid that regret?

I plan to practice “dying” a little.  We Jews do this intensely on Yom Kippur (coming up in ten days).  I intend to try on the death perspective all day long, reviewing my life from that vantage point.  What will I pine do be able to differently, or just one more time?

I expect to look at every relationship in my life, every role I play: child of G-d, father, brother, uncle, friend, writer, lover, citizen, consumer, Jew, homeowner, etc.  On my deathbed, what will I wish I had done?

And then, I hope to gather up that wisdom, and, like a gardener, pour it gently back into my daily life in small, loving ways.  Sustainable, renewable ways.  A little here, a little there.

I have an inkling, already, that one of the major things is just opening my heart and soul to others without trying to be something.  Without trying to be anything.  Not trying to have wise answers or know what to say or what to do.  Just sharing the moment-by-moment struggle.  We’re in this together.

I think that’s the most powerful gift we have to offer others.  And ourselves.

But we’ll see (G-d willing!).  Maybe there will be some surprises in there, too.  Things that arise in the space that Yom Kippur creates in time, giving the still small voice an opportunity to be heard most clearly.

I hope, Gentle Reader, that you have an opportunity for such a practice.  And if so, then in the days to come, may you learn much from spending more time listening, more time hearkening to that inner wisdom.

And may we remember to act in accordance with the basic truth of our life here: we’re all in this together.