Don’t Look Down

It’s a critical moment in the movie. Two people are escaping, climbing a rope or a scaffold or a fence. They dangle there in space, high up. Or two people are running over a narrow bridge, below them a yawning chasm. They must cross if they want to live.

We’ve watched these scenes so many times. Often, we’re perched on the edge of our seats, breathless and scared. Some of us can’t watch; it’s too real, too terrifying. Inevitably, the more heroic of the pair will turn to their quaking partner and say, “We’ll be okay. Just don’t look down.”

I don’t know any mountain climbers or skyscraper construction workers. I’ve never asked a high diver nor an acrobat about what it feels like up there, so far from the surface. Do people dangling in the air, by choice or necessity, follow the same credo? Is the general rule of thumb to not look down?

There is so much bitterness and angst in our lives right now. The Uvalde massacre has pierced our hearts to the core. That such brutality and evil exist in our world is inconceivable. It literally makes no sense. But then, it didn’t make sense when we read about mass murder in Buffalo or so many other places.

What is there to say? Which, by the way, is the title of an editorial in this Thursday’s Boston Globe. It is a pastiche of quotes from editorials over the last 20 years, decrying gun violence and mass murder, and the deaths of innocent children. It is a poignant and sorrowful document to read because, after all, what has changed? What has the Federal government done to curb gun violence?

The more we dwell on the seeming futility of real change, the more we go down the path of anger and anguish about what politicians and leaders are doing to benight the world. It beggars the mind to realize that they genuinely want to transform our nation into a dominant, dominating white Christian culture. What hangs in the balance? A woman’s right to choose and the folks who help them. A gay person proudly living their life with dignity. Parents supporting their trans child and the village that helps them: teachers, medical teams, and neighbors. Affordable health care. The rise of antisemitism. The false claim of a rigged election.

All of this is connected. All of it is terrifying. Reviewing it feels like getting sucked into a black hole. The weight of it all is too much to handle.

So I say: don’t look down. As hopeless as it feels, we must keep looking ahead towards the horizon. Not hoping is a surrender to the malevolence in the world around us. Shaking our heads and succumbing to despair – as natural and justifiable as that would be – will destroy us.

Don’t look down. The Bratslaver rebbe said over 200 years ago, “Jews! You are forbidden to despair!” He knew a lot about pain and sadness and struggled with the dark places. He didn’t teach that we should cover our eyes and pretend that everything was copasetic. Instead, he said that we must keep our eyes and our hearts open, acknowledging the pain and possibilities in the world.

Don’t look down. Amid the darkness, we gather the light and then raise it up. We become like Havdalah candles; many smaller wicks all woven together to cast a brighter light. It is easy to traffic in cynicism and curse the darkness yet perpetuate the pain by only speaking of what is not rather than what might be.

We are all climbing a mountain in a raging storm. It is steep, and it is cold and scary. We must keep going. Keep hoping. Keep working for the change. And don’t look down.

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