“How’s it going?” I ask. “Fine. How are you?” “Hanging in there…” “Yeah, us too. Stay healthy.” “You too.”
We’ve passed each other on the street twice a day, 3 days in a row. We say the same things. Every. Time. It feels like a scene right out of the Truman Show (which is available on Starz and Hulu, NOT on Netflix or HBO). Same line, same faces. Every. Day.
I wonder as we pass: have we ever met prior to this awkward moment of rendezvous? Do we live on the same street? What are you doing to stay alive? Do you sterilize the kitchen counter when you bring in groceries? How much toilet paper do you have? Are you scared, anxious, terrified or freaked out? Who do you watch? Do you read everything from multiple sources? Do you avoid the news altogether?
I have a thousand more questions running in the back of my head. This social isolation has my poor extroverted brain spinning like a hard drive searching for a source… But, in the meantime, I nod to the strollers in the street – and there so many strollers in the streets! – and offer my desultory commentary.
Sometimes I think about what God might be thinking during this peculiar time. The God in my head is not a loud, belligerent manager screaming about what the heck it is we humans screwed up this time. God is not some punishing presence visiting a plague upon humanity because we are awful. And God is not some twisted teacher causing a plague to teach us a lesson so that we come out of this madness being better and kinder to each other.
That classical God image is archaic and cruel. The God with the temper, the God who causes calamity and loss and destruction – that God I don’t want or need. My God looks at this mess we’re in, shaking an anthropomorphic head in sadness. The Holy One has no power, no magic wand to wave and make it all go away. My God has absolutely no answers as to why and how this happened. COVID19 is as opaque and ominous to God as it is to us.
The God I connect with is a God of endless love, el rachum v’chanun: a God of mercy and compassion. This God consoles me, reminds me that I am not alone. God reminds me that I have a family and friends and a soulful congregation. God reminds me that the Holy One is with me, too. And that, “Even when I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, because you are with me.”
I do not pretend to know what’s next. But I do know that following the World Health Organization’s 5 directives is a sacred obligation, a true mitzvah:
HANDS Wash them often
ELBOW Cough into it
FACE Don’t touch it
SPACE Keep safe distance
HOME Stay if you can
And I do know that staying in touch with people, reaching out via phone and/or Internet, even saying, “How are you?” to the same people every day is right and necessary – for them and for me, too.
Nothing happens for a reason or because God wills it to be so. There is no magical thinking in postmodern Judaism, just the assertion that we can rise to to the place God desires us to attain. It is a place of empathy and understanding. It is a place where we might candidly acknowledge our fears and sadness, even as we redouble our efforts to grow individually as human beings. We can participate more actively with our communities to feel and to be more connected, even when we are forced to be physically apart from each other.
It’s a long hard road and we’re on it together. No shortcuts in sight. We’re not alone. I’m all in, with your trust and love, knowing that God is by our side, giving the gift of infinite love as we make our way.