Nature and Love

February 8, 2019

There is something starkly beautiful about a New England winter. For some reason I find myself here almost every year at this time or at least in some wintery place. But the gray landscape lends itself to introspection. At least here on this mountaintop, I am isolated with just two of my immediate family, my mother and brother. And so, often, I am alone with my thoughts. Since I don’t ski, or snowshoe, it is just me and the fire and watching the snow melt on this strange day.

I will hardly be the first person to say that your family is who they are and sometimes you love them in spite of yourself and in spite of themselves. I was told recently to remember that there is family you choose and family you don’t choose. And you love them differently. And sometimes, there is the family that chooses you.

Over time, people have come into my life that I love very much. I did not know that I could love as much as I do. I did not know how much I would value the love and friendship of the women in my life. And I did not know how much I would value and be touched by the people I have known the longest and who I see the least .

When I was young, all I understood of love was sex and marriage. As an aside, marriage has not worked out well for me. But marriage gave me my son, from whom I have learned a very different kind of love; The kind for which you would throw yourself in front of a moving train.

It is always interesting to me the extent to which nature, the weather, the scenery affects my mood and feelings. Sometimes it affects my optimism. Sometimes it is all about memory. When I come to this place it is full of memories of people, events and love past. And it is full of the present – thoughtful, joyful, difficult.

It has taken these years of living to begin to understand the nature of love for me. And it is all of the above, thoughtful, joyful, difficult, memorable. How happy I am that I have begun to understand the difference between need, want and love.

Love and Family

This week’s Torah portion is, as always, chock full of things and covers quite the span of time. Significantly, Moses is born and his life is defined early on by acts of compassion and love, first by his mother who fears for his life and next by Pharoah’s daughter in defiance of his order that all Hebrew boy children be killed. Pharoah’s distrust of the Israelites is formed essentially by the fact that they are multiplying, that their families are growing and so he attempts to limit them by killing them off.

A great deal else happens in this very first book of Exodus but I think, at this season, we should talk about compassion, love and family. I listen to the news and read a Facebook feed and I hear people talk and I see bumper stickers and I am overwhelmed by the division, contempt, ignorance, rudeness and downright hatred. This to the point that I can barely stand to be part of the world.

And then, a package from one of my brothers arrives and in it is a canvas shopping bag inscribed large and in bright red “Be Optimistic”. Now that is a reminder. So I stop and think about my aging mother who loves me. About my brothers and their children who love me. I think about my friends who love me and who show me compassion when I am unlovable. I think about my students who I love. I think about my amazing son and his equally amazing fiance who love me and who I love more than anything. I stop and think about my life and how blessed I am.

The Torah portion reminds me of the sacrifice it takes to be a true leader of integrity, intelligence and courage. It reminds me of how dear our families and friends are. It reminds me that it takes great faith to do great things and that sometimes compassion is all that is needed to send someone on their way. It also reminds me that great faith and adherence to principle sometimes also demands great sacrifice and great courage.

I think in this season of many holidays that what is needed is not an argument about how we greet one another but that we act towards one another with compassion and love. We are, in the end all the same, united in the common bond of humanity. Be gracious, be grateful, love your family and those who matter, tell them often, look up at the moon and know we are all looking at the same beautiful sky. Whatever your faith, compassion, love and courage will carry us through.

The Nature of Love

 

So, my friends.  We always think, when we hear the word love, of romantic love.  And don’t get me wrong, romantic love is a wonderful thing if it is part of your life.  But it is wrong thinking to think that romantic love is what should always be top of mind when you think of “love”.

My cats love me, in their own peculiar way.  They need to be close a lot of the time when I am home because I often am not.  They groom me and bring me various live and half-eaten prey to show how much they love me.  Dogs, fortunately, do not bring prey but theirs is a most unconditional form of love.  They do not care what you do or when, they just love you.  Cats are a little pickier but always come around.

And religion, ritual, spiritual practices tell me that G-d loves me.  The best version of any of these tells me that my concept of a G-d should be loving and caring and not punitive despite some of the biblical allegories that might drive you to believe otherwise.  I choose to believe that if there is a power greater than myself, it is caring; that the universe means me no harm.  Bad things happen, they are part of life not the vengeful creations of a punishing G-d.

Despite my own insecurities and self-doubt, I know today that my friends love me.  Now there are the women.  They are the friends whose love is wrapped in sympathy, empathy and hard truth.  They are the friends that fill my house with laughter when we play cards and whose paths, in many cases, parallel my own.  They are the friends that understand what my life is like at the present time and that is  a priceless gift.  Then there are the men.  I have learned that it is indeed possible to have really stalwart and steady male friends without the need for tension, chemistry or romance.  They have brought me meals, listened to me rant about the shortcomings of certain other men in my life.  They show up to fix things or reach things I can’t.  They refer me to services I need as a single homeowner.  They have my back all the time and don’t laugh at me as much as the women do.  They are the friends that just show up and care whether they understand or not. And men and women alike, I love them back.

And there is my son, with whom I am friends.  He is the friend that showed up every day to clean the pool and take out my trash when I couldn’t.  He is the friend that knows me inside out and doesn’t take any bullshit answers. He is the friend that thinks I should have romantic love in my life. He is the friend that shares his fears and understands mine.  We have come to this wonderful adult place.  And of course, he is my baby and I love him more than I will ever love anyone!

So, romantic love – it would be nice. But I have, as you can see, lots of love in my life; and it is good.

Movies~And thinking

Well, now that the highest of the high holy days have passed, I have no excuse.  I am going to do something I have never done before in writing, I am going to talk about a movie.  With the caveat that I actually don’t go very often despite the fact that I love going to the movies.

I went to see White Boy Rick. Yes, I know, you are thinking “really?”.  So just to get it out of the way, Matthew McConaughey was really good, as expected. But anyone can say that.

As I left the theatre I found that the movie had really made me think. And since I was by myself, I was walking along talking to myself about what I was thinking. Don’t laugh. Now there are movies that are pure entertainment, and there are movies the cause us to revisit historical or emotional spaces we are already familiar with but that evoke an emotional response. And then there is the rare movie that makes us think.

This movie, painfully based on a true story, is about many things.  First, it is about the seduction of money and status set against poverty and the failure of ambition. Second, it is about the abysmal failure of the sentencing guidelines that were introduced several decades ago. These draconian guidelines filled the prisons with non violent drug offenders on long sentences and contributed greatly to the growth industry that our prisons have become. And finally it is about the nature of the relationship between parents and children.  In this case an ineffective father trying hard in difficult circumstances to do what he thinks is right. And then he does what he knows is wrong, because he thinks it will be better in the end, which it is not. And it is about the pain of making choices constrained by poverty, hopelessness and constant failure.

So, my first movie review, I thought it was darn good and it made me think, and eat popcorn.

Really, We Are All The Same

 

Nitzavim – You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your G-d.  And it means everyone, from the lowliest to the highest and all those in between.  I love this, it makes everyone equal, it makes all of us the same, at least within the house of Israel.

As always, there is a two edged sword, a little threat with the promise.  Even as Moses tells the people that G-d will not forsake them, he does tell them there will be punishment if they are idolatrous.  There can never just be a promise, but that is another story.

As we are nearing the end of the story, as the generations are looking to the promised land, as the people have become a people, this leveling happens.  Community is a process, in this case forged over many trials, travels and tribulations. Today as well, community building is a process, a labor of love and work.  And in that work, we become equal. Although teams have leaders, good teams work on a level playing field no matter the assigned or adopted task of each team member.

In our current world we have forgotten what team is.  We have forgotten what community building means, from the lowliest to the highest, it takes us all.  Someone needs to adopt, or volunteer, for every task no matter what it is.  In this way society works and all the jobs are accomplished, the rewards are reaped by everyone in some proportional way.  We seek these days to eliminate those that would do the tasks we do not wish to do but have no plan as to how those tasks will be done. Nor do we wish to pay for those tasks in a way commensurate with the necessity for the work.

So to, in families. That community needs to be built as well. All the tasks need to be accomplished and some agreement needs to be reached as to who will accomplish them and how they will be accomplished.  Respect, trust, equality, fairness, love, sympathy, empathy and faith.  All are necessary to the task of building community.

So in Nitzavim we are told we are all equal, and in standing equal we will all be rewarded. The reward of course is figurative for us, we won’t all be entering the promised land. The reward is the community, the respect, trust, equality, fairness, love, sympathy, empathy and faith.  And as we approach, in mere days, these most holy of days in the Jewish calendar, we indeed stand equal before G-d and one another . There is still time to correct what needs correcting and return to those values of community building. And one more, most important of all, forgiveness.