| Before Shabbat readers,
I promised myself that I would start the new year with upbeat and spiritually uplifting essays. I thought that after such a tough year, after so many stories of loss and pain and atrocity and massacre, that 2015 would lead us into some light. But last week the loss of lives in Paris demanded a response. Surely, I thought, surely we can segue into something more affirming for this Shabbat.
Alas, I cannot. I am in mourning. Dr Michael Davidson was not a member of Beth Avodah. He was not my doctor. I never met him or his wife, Terri, a doctor and a 7 month pregnant expectant mom of three. I don’t know his 3 young children. Yet his utterly senseless – and here I would say that ‘senseless’ is truly the definitional word for this murder – has left me shaken.
I never met Dr Michael Davidson, but I look at his picture and I realize that I do know him. You do, too. He’s got a quintessentially Yiddische punim, a wide open, friendly Jewish face. You can tell he loved to laugh. You can tell he rolled around on the floor with his kids. You can’t help but smile back at the confident Jewish doctor.
The Jewish doctor. Michael looks to fit the Platonic ideal of the Jewish doctor. Cardiac surgeons are, by nature, confident and self-assured people. Would you want any other character type doing open heart surgery on you? But there’s something else that is revealed in the photo of Dr Davidson. I see a mensch. I see a doctor who took his mission of healing others seriously. I see a man who lived by these words from Maimonides’ Physician’s Oath, something many Jewish docs have seen and adopted as their own: Preserve the strength of my body and soul that they may ever be ready to help rich and poor, good and bad, enemy as well as friend. In the sufferer let me see only the human being.
When I first heard the whole story of Dr Davidson’s death, quite frankly I got very angry. How could we lose such a good man, a person devoted to healing and doing good? He was in the prime of his life with so much more to offer the world. He himself had so much more to accomplish professionally. He had so much more to anticipate as the father of 3, soon 4 children. What a loss, a loss that reverberates over time and space for his own progeny, not to mention the lives he might have saved in the operating room.
You will not hear me say that God took Michael away. You will not hear me say that God needed Michael more than this world did. No, Stephen Pasceri took Michael with 2 shots to the chest for reasons only the murderer would know.
These are the moments when pat theological constructs collapse. To say that everything happens for a reason is to defame the memory of Michael Davidson and every other soul murdered or brutalized in this world. With complete faith I believe that God weeps with Michael’s family and friends and community. Sometimes I imagine that God spends every moment of every day weeping for all of the pain and injustice in the Universe. God forbid someone might go to his family and say the equivalent of “he’s in a better place right now”. One will never hear those words at a Jewish funeral because we don’t believe it; it’s just not true. Michael’s place is not with God; his place was here in this world with his family and his friends and his patients and his band. The only thing God needs from us is to be just and righteous among other humans, right here.
I imagine that God looks at us and wonders why we do what we do. I am certain that we surprise God every moment with our pettiness and our violent natures. We know what God wants of us and what God does not want. For better and for worse, we have free will; we have the choice to listen to God or to turn away and instead listen to our own baser and more selfish impulses.
I also imagine that God’s holiness is magnified by people like Michael Davidson who give of themselves in extraordinary ways. Life is so mysterious; the things that happen or will happen are unknown to all of us and to God as well. At any moment the randomness of the Universe will be visited upon us. The best that we can do, given the intrinsically capricious nature of life and death, is to remember that we are here to embrace the world and its inhabitants for God’s sake. Whatever we do, any love and kindness and healing we can bring into the world, with a scalpel or music or laughter or fixing a sink or correcting a test or cleaning a floor, will bring more light. Dr Michael Davidson brought beacons of light into the world before he was extinguished. What can we do? Mourn this deep and terrible loss. And then pick up the torch. May Michael’s memory be for a blessing.