The default response to the end of a year is usually, “Good riddance.” There are endlessly good reasons to slam the door on 2022. We all have our own grievances and slights stored up and cataloged. This post-Covid world has dished up enough sludge and mud to gum up our lives, from war to inflation to the degradation of democracy to… well, as I said, every one of us has our legitimate agenda of woes.
We could spend endless hours trading our various affronts – and sometimes, we do. I know I do indulge in this practice from time to time. And frankly, I feel utterly justified in doing so. We live in a crazy world. It is turbulent and often stormy. The outrage, the disappointment, the fear, that knot of foreboding are all real.
It’s like the reporting on the Buffalo snowstorm. Here is a storm unlike anyone has seen in recent memory. Extraordinary snowfall, high winds, blizzard conditions, crushing cold. No one could’ve accurately predicted the ferocity of this storm. Nobody could’ve imagined the carnage left behind. Horrible things happened. Systems broke down. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. People made mistakes. Bad judgment was sometimes used.
So what story leads? Who’s to blame. Who can be singled out as responsible for the loss of life? Who can we point to as negligent? Who can be accused of criminal behavior? This is the way of American culture. Split the world between the good guys and the bad guys. No shades of grey allowed.
No one who works for the city of Buffalo is proud of what happened. Not one emergency worker, plow driver, or police officer, not one city official from the mayor to sanitation services wanted anyone to die. No one decided one citizen’s life was expendable. The Buffalo snowstorm was about people paralyzed and overwhelmed.
There is another story to tell about that same storm. It’s a generative story about folks who owned snowmobiles who went out looking for stranded people and rescuing them from freezing to death in their cars or on the street. It’s about a restaurant that decided to be a literal shelter from the storm, taking people in and feeding them, keeping them warm and safe. It’s a story about action, not blame.
There’s always so many layers to our stories. The maxim in tv news, “If it bleeds, it leads”, is a regrettable truism. But when one clears away the smoke and the fireworks there are more, quieter truths. The determination of people to reach out, to serve their community with acts of courage and empathy, not for profit or attention, but because they are called to do something – anything! — that is life affirming.
As my teacher, Krista Tippett, writes:
“We are familiar with a story of our time of catastrophe and dysfunction, and that is real. But it is not the whole story of us. There is an ordinary and abundant reality in our world of people walking with forms that are broken, with a world that is pain, with institutions that don’t make sense anymore – and finding ways to be of service, to have an edifying effect on the people around them, to be healers in so many forms, and to model and advance what it looks like when we rise to our higher humanity.
We are capable of beauty and joy and dignity and incredible creativity and community and care…. Calling out this reality, naming that there is a generative story of our time is a way to begin.”
As we enter 2023, we can write our generative story day by day as we live it and make it so. Imagine this new year to come as the field upon which we enact the promise to rise to our higher humanity. This isn’t about getting the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s about being a Jewish community devoted to loving and caring about each other – and about the world.