Life Happens

You see it in the old stone walls of New England cities, in the concrete blocks of America's highway retaining walls, in the trestle gravel of old train tracks and in bare petroglyph cliffs - life happens. Click To Tweet

It is amazing to see, in places where no soil appears, growth happens. Things grow; life flourishes where there is nothing apparent to nourish it.

And so it is with humans. Time and again we see the struggle to survive, to grow, where there is nothing to nourish. Children love abusive parents, starving parents find a way to feed starving children. People continue to plant, and hope for growth, where the ground is unforgiving. People who grow up in abject poverty rise to great leadership. A child who learns piano on a tabletop becomes a concert pianist. People innovate in the hope of making growth more viable; look at Israel, a blooming country in the desert, a testament to human persistence.

We grow or we die. And so it is with our very selves. The physical is obvious, the emotional, intellectual and spiritual less so. Faith dies but we continue to mouth the words, attend the services and fail to seek a renewal of faith. Marriages die and we stay because it is easier, familiar and the alternative is too scary. Our minds atrophy but we sit in front of the television instead of seeking revitalization, new inspiration.

And yet, despite our own worst efforts, we grow. And if we put some effort into it who knows what might happen. Like the plants in the unforgiving stone wall, we struggle to grow no matter what.

The Moment

The twisting narrow road is lined with sea worn stone walls overwhelmed with flowers. The road is so narrow it feels unsafe as we drive on what to me is the wrong side. The island is small but this trip takes us most of the way along its beautiful length lush with greenery and adorned with spectacular homes. As we navigate the ups and downs the bluest sea is mostly to the right of our small van transport.

There are flowers everywhere, some I could name, some I could not; oleander, bougainvillea, hibiscus, jacaranda, exora, plumbago. I could spend weeks here just looking at the landscape and of course, the sea.

We took some very hard curves, what felt like switchbacks, until I lost my sense of in what direction we were headed. And then, like magic, the sea appeared on my left in a suddenly opened view of that amazing clear blue water.

I looked out the window at the blue sky, a mirror of the sea – or the other way round – at puffy cumulus and moored sailboats with their white sails furled. And what I thought was “what a fine day.” And suddenly, I was simply overwhelmed with the wonder of my life. I was amazed that I was really in this beautiful place and I started to cry with a feeling of gratitude for this amazing life. It has been a long time in the making, but it is amazing. I have been to places and done things I never thought possible. I have given and received love from absolute strangers who are strangers no more. I have shared my joy and my pain with others who understand. I am writing. I am singing.

As I looked at the sea and sky and flowers all I felt in that moment was pure gratitude. I did not summon it, it just happened. How rare to have that pure and strong a feeling, and to know what it is.

Bermuda

There is magic, on a late summer night, sitting with your toes in the sand. The stars twinkle above befriended by a perfect half moon. At my back the sound of the waves lapping the shore and before me a perfect vertical bonfire raising its glowing ember arms to the velvet sky.

We are a circle of friends, sharing our joys and sorrows, our triumphs and disasters knowing that we are loved no matter what. What feels a shame to us just gains a smile, a soft silence, a hug; until we know that it is no shame. In this moment of acceptance and serenity we can feel and acknowledge our own growth. We are no longer bound by fear and self.

And in the circle, and the night, and the ocean and the fire, we are new -just for this day, this night, this moment. There is no need to look ahead or behind. We are present. Life will always bring new joys, new sorrows, new trials and triumphs. But in this moment, we are are safe in our own skins. A group of friends sitting on a beach. The magic is we are healing, together.

What More Do You Need

Eikev is this week’s Torah portion; the word has too many meanings for me to really understand or expound on. Suffice it to say that it can mean “heed”, “hear”, “follow” and “heel”, among other things. The portion is always named for the first word so Eikev it is.

Moses, who will never enter the promised land with his people, reminds them of the covenant, the b’rit, that G-d made with them. But he also reminds them that they must be observant and follow the “rules” faithfully for G-d to maintain that covenant. He proceeds to remind them of their bad behavior, of their “trespasses against G-d”. He reminds them that although they will inherit the promised land from the idolatrous, they are far from virtuous.

This portion tells us that the promised land, Israel, will be a “land of milk and honey” if and only if the people obey the commandments and teach them to their children. What a metaphor for our time. If we were to obey the commandments, those basic social rules, we would be in a world at peace.

You have heard the idea that everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten. You didn’t learn the basics to build a rocket, or a building, splice a gene or write computer code. You did, however, learn the basic rules of how to live in the world, how to treat other people, how to share and how to care. You learned to be nice, to be polite, to stand up for those less fortunate, to tell the truth, not to take or destroy other people’s things, not to cheat, to respect differences and to respect proper authority. As an aside you also learn to “tell on” improper authority figures. All of these values, if we were to actually translate them to adult behavior would make the world a much better place.

We do teach these values to our children, or at least many of us at home, and many of our schools and houses of worship do. But somewhere along the line we seem to forget these values and instead of what we learned as children persisting, we start learning from others, adults, who have also forgotten those values. We have stopped thinking for ourselves. We have stopped standing up for the less fortunate. We have forgotten how to look past our differences. We accept cheating. We have forgotten how to share.

So you may not have learned all you need to know in kindergarten, you definitely learned what you need to know about human interaction. But you have forgotten it. According to the Torah, G-d gave Moses the basics and instructed us to… Click To Tweet

So you may not have learned all you need to know in kindergarten, but you definitely learned what you need to know about human interaction. I think in the main we have forgotten it. According to the Torah, G-d gave Moses the basics and instructed us to follow them faithfully. And the promise is that if we ever manage to do that we might globally take a turn for the better.

Shabbat Shalom

Why

As we walked the rough cobblestones of the death camps some of the elderly among us struggled with the uneven terrain even as they struggled with memories of lost family and broken connections and betrayed heritage. I watched her walk beyond the limits of her ability because this is was why she came .

At Auschwitz I, the docent took us through buildings that were still standing, explaining the function of each. The eugenics, where terrible experiments took place. The original rooms that served as “barracks”, people packed on the floor with no space to walk. The “punishment” cells where the SS experimented with ways to kill. And many more.

Although the buildings were relatively close together, it was hard going. Those that had been utilizing wheelchairs were unable to do so on these unforgiving paths. And the docent, sensitive to the limitations of some in our group, suggested places that folks could rest and wait for us to meet up with them. Many did just that – they rested, they waited, unable to go on.

One of the most moving things I witnessed on this trip was one elderly woman. Overweight, swollen legs, short of breath. She was offered many opportunities to rest, to stop, to end the tour at each camp. I watched her struggle on, slowly, well behind the pace of the rest of the group. But she would not give up. Being on this sacred ground, where her family died, was the most important thing. Walking these paths, looking for their names on the recording pages, this was everything. She would not give up, she would keep going the whole way, no matter how painful or how difficult, because this was why she came.