Sometimes I am just too distracted for my own good. I grab onto a train of thought and hold on, twisting and turning until it feels more like a roller coaster and less like a train… This behavior produces lots of sighs and then I forget what I was supposed to be thinking about. In fact, there is nothing more disconcerting than walking into a room with a purpose and then utterly losing what said purpose was…
Alas: this is the way of the world – so much to and say and consider. There are those who counsel not to read the news; if it’s that important you’ll hear about it. Otherwise it’s just too depressing. I wish I could follow that advice. The thing is, I live in the world. I actually care about what’s happening in the Universe around me.
I know what you’re thinking; we are just dust in the wind, a mote in God’s eye. In the end it’s all pretty much absurdity. So why get too worked up? This is not untrue. I know in the end it all goes away. I know after I’m dead that the world just keeps turning without me. I know entropy is inexorable.
Frankly however, I am not interested in the moment after I die. I care about right now, the moment in which I reside. This moment is the only thing I have. And so I feel some kind of obligation to know what’s happening around me. Once I learn about what’s happening, how can I remain aloof or disengaged? How can I not care?
What’s called for here is balance, or at least, some semblance of acrobatic dexterity out here on the tight rope. It may be that prayer originated on this tight rope. Not the cry-of-help prayer our ancestors offered up when they saw a snaggletooth tiger approaching. I mean instead the “help me care about others and not be overwhelmed by the pain of the world” prayer. I mean the “help me experience the true beauty of the world despite its hideous shambles” prayer.
And so I say the following prayer: Thank you God for these beautiful first days of summer. Thank you for all the blessings you bestow upon me. Thank you for the splendor of the earth in all its beauty. I am aware of my good fortune to be an American Jew living in a world of comfort and prosperity – help me to never forget just how good I have it. Help me remember that there are millions upon millions of people who suffer every day without enough food and shelter. I know I can make a difference even as I know I cannot change the world on my own. Help me to remember that I may enjoy my life without guilt for the infinite injustices of the world. Help me to remember that I must stay committed to eradicating whatever evil I can eradicate. “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirke Avot 2:21)
I’m not always sure about the ancient prayers of our liturgy, but this prayer is unambiguous and sincere, challenging me and challenging God. Prayer is the bamboo pole an acrobat depends on to keep from falling.
What can I say? I read my email while on vacation. I read the news while sitting on the beach. I am connected. I am committed.
Of course I will be relaxing. I will be engaged in serious R&R at Nauset Beach and Pilgrim Lake. You ask what I’m reading this summer? Here’s the list: Peter Heller’s new novel, The Painter (you must read his first novel The Dog Stars), A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, and The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. As I review my list, I realize these are all dark, intense novels… Oh well…
Before Shabbat goes on hiatus with this latest blog, to return in late August. I wish you all health and peace of mind. As Lester Burnham once said, “…[I]t’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…”