HOPE

It is almost impossible, now, to describe what it felt to be incalculably hopeful. Our idealism, in the sixties and seventies, was boundless. We believed absolutely and completely that we would change the world. And in some ways the world was indeed changed. The civil rights act, the voting rights act, ultimately Title IX, the rise of feminism and a tectonic shift in our culture; music, art, attitudes.

And idealism dies hard. All my life I have held fast to some idealistic notions of good and right. Not to mention my steadfast belief in constitutional democracy and the protections it should afford us.

Having said that, the hardest thing for me about where we are now is the erosion of hope, the loss of idealism. I find it damn near impossible to watch the news without becoming angry, or depressed, or just plain sad. I find it almost impossible to believe that we are where we are. That racism, fascism, anti-semitism and all forms of bigotry are on the rise. That we cannot agree that saving the planet and all the creatures on it should be a first and urgent priority. That the short view is always the prevailing view. That civil discussion and disagreement are no longer possible. These are the big things, the small things confront us daily. My town now only pretends to recycle, my social security is taxed, there are hungry homeless children in our schools; and on and on.

I was watching a fictional television show in which a leading character made an impassioned speech about the values we should all be holding dear. About the pure and fantastical notion of a government by and for the people. And geek that I am, it made me cry. Good,grief. And it reminded me of that hope, that beautiful boundless hope.

And all I can do, as I witness the destruction of decades of progress on the environment, the recission of regulations that protect our air, our water, our parks, our children, the poor, the disenfranchised, is try to see the good. I watch for those moments when the best in us is evident, when my neighbors help me with things I can’t do, when people band together to help the victims of some senseless tragedy, when a restaurant feeds those with no money. Just examples, but sparks of hope. As I said, hope does hard, so we have to fan those tiny sparks and pray, every day, that the flames can rise again and carry us forward. Maybe hope is contagious.

Assumptions, Stereotypes and the Death of a President

So, having somewhat recovered from some nasty surgery inside my face, I was all set to write something loving and sweet about Chanukah; or something like that. But today changed all that.

What I read on facebook today in many instances were  posts or responses that were knee jerk awful.  That George H.W. Bush was a racist, elitist bad white man whose time was done and that his eulogizers were playing to the public, or the cameras. I was stunned by these comments. And I think they do a disservice to the commenters even more than they do the commented on.

I am an unashamed liberal, and I did not agree with much that President Bush believed in although I have to acknowledge he accomplished much good in bipartisan fashion. That being said, here goes. I listened to almost all of the service today and listened intently to those very eulogies. What I heard was the heartfelt admiration, love and grief that those who were speaking had for the late president. And I am old enough to know the truth when I hear it. Those breaking down were not acting, that is clear. And more, what I heard were people listing the same qualities over and over again, and telling stories that were exemplary of those qualities. They weren’t just blowing smoke, they meant everything they said.

And what they said was that George H.W. Bush was a man of great decency and humility who saw everyone from the janitor to the king and took time for them all. What they said was that he was a man of humor and a man who took the time to write personal notes to many with whom he had great differences. Now this is all aside from politics, this is about the man and how he left the office a place we could respect despite our differences. My impression of this president was never of someone whose “patrician” upbringing and status was an obvious characteristic, it was never of someone that placed his personal fortunes above what he perceived were the needs of the country. Maybe I was wrong, but I don’t think so.

It is true that one “side” loses every election. And it is true that we will always have differences of opinion. What was true and seems less so now is that many of our public servants really do put the interests of the many, of the country, above their own. In the currrent climate that seems an old fashioned and naive notion, but I believe. What matters is that everyone understands that win or lose your voice, your vote, counts. My son asked me when he was young why we recycled when everyone didn’t. I can only answer that if each of us did our part, many of our problems would be solved; but it always counts.

It is a terrible thing to think that civility, dignity, humility and humanity are outdated. What matters is how you treat people. What matters is respecting other’s views without ire or anger. What matters is that white, black, rich or poor at some point you know that the interests of the future, of the many, matter more than anything in the now. What matters is heart. And despite disagreeing with many of his political positions, I think George H.W. Bush had heart, in spades. And that I respect.

Can You Still Believe In Magic?

I wrote on Vayeira, this past week’s Torah portion last year and what struck me was that it is full of magic and miracles. Although there was much punishment and destruction, there was still magic and miracles.

It is hard to write, today, about magic and miracles. Saturday, in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Jews were gunned down as they prayed their Sabbath prayers. They were not gunned down by Muslim extremists or other “imported” terrorists. They were gunned down by a homegrown anti-Semitic extremist who believed that Jews were somehow “alien” and a threat to his way of life. In Pittsburgh. He was known on extreme web sites as a virulent anti-Semite. He posted, essentially, what he planned to do, that he had had enough of us. And eleven innocent people are dead.

So it’s hard, today, to write about magic and miracles.  I taught religious school this morning and we talked about how you believe, how you have faith, in a world where bad things happen. We worked hard at this, at finding the path. These are 12 and 13 year olds, trying to find their path in so many ways. And then they have to think about and deal with things like this.

Why would they want to be Jews when Jews are targets? Why would they want to believe in a world where they can be shot down in school, in shul? I don’t think it is my place as a teacher to tell them what or how to believe. I can share what I believe, I can try to help them see a possible path, but everyone, teen or not, needs to find a way to faith on their own.

In the end I can’t promise them safety in their Jewish identity, we can only talk about the courage and self worth involved in being and standing up for who you are. We can only talk about living life not in fear. And that’s where faith comes in. We finally agreed that probably G-d does not create or cause bad things; life happens. Faith is what helps us through those things. The stories of the G-d of Genesis, testing and testing, are meant to instruct us but we need not take them literally. We work to find the lessons, everyone has to find their own path to belief. It would be wonderful if we could wave a magic wand and disappear the evil, the scary things, but alas we cannot. What I do know is that despite the evil in the world it is truly still full of magic and miracles – you just have to believe, and know where to look.

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.

Luck, and Action

Gratitude, essential and elusive.  Something I have tried very hard to instill in my son; that regardless of what we don’t have we are so much luckier than many.  I think he gets it.

There is something guilt provoking in being grateful that others’ misfortunes are not yours.  But isn’t the essence of gratitude the idea that “it” isn’t or hasn’t happened to you? Yet.

The state of the world often brings tears these days, yes crying again. The Hondurans who have lived here as productive citizens virtually all their lives, now to be sent “back” to their non-home. The violence and deaths in Gaza and Israel.  The dreamers who have never known anywhere but here. The national parks being dismantled and made less accessible.  The children who go hungry in this wealthy land. The teachers who have to strike for a living wage, knowing they are hurting the children they love. Nazis marching in our streets, openly racist and anti-Semitic; behavior that while existing, was frowned on and mostly repressed for decades.  The black men gunned down for no other reason and the women who mourn for them. And on, and on, and on.

[tweetshare tweet=”I remember the intense idealism of the sixties and seventies, I lived it. And I have always held dear the notion that love and good, coupled with action, would win the day. I dedicated my first career to that notion, and to a love of the constitution and the rights of the underdog.” username=”@trienahm”]

I remember the intense idealism of the sixties and seventies, I lived it. And I have always held dear the notion that love and good, coupled with action, would win the day.  I dedicated my first career to that notion, and to a love of the constitution and the rights of the underdog.

I fear that love is no longer enough.  But as a personal matter, I have to remain positive; about the world, about my life.  And the shortest line to positivity is gratitude.  So I practice a prayer of gratitude every day on the way to work. Radio off, spoken out loud, thanking the universe for what a good life I have and acknowledging how intensely lucky I am in so many ways.  And the antidote to negativity and especially self pity is always gratitude.  And then there’s always action, fuel for gratitude.