Amidst the overwhelm of the catastrophe in Newtown is not only how to move on with “normal” life, but what “lessons” to learn that can both honor the victims and somehow help us muddle along in our lives…knowing so vividly that neither tomorrow nor the next moment is a certainty.
The immediate response is to remember each day not to take anything or anyone for granted. The President sounded the obvious parental response: that you hug your child and dear ones tighter, each time you reunite at the end of a day.
One lesson to take to heart in watching the horror of how Newtown buried its dead…day after day…is how that community has drawn on its essence as “community”, something not to be assumed in many pockets, especially larger urban-based areas, of the country. As I have suggested before, America doesn’t on a regular basis do “community” very well. Our country was built on the rights of individuals whether to pray as they wish or, as is being stirred up in the debates swirling around the aftermath of the tragedy, the right to bear arms.
However many years it will take for Newtown to go through a process of healing, their interconnectivity as community, given how small and isolated they seem to be in the larger scale of Americana, gives them hope for a positive future even in the darkness that has engulfed them and the country.
Jewish communities throughout European history held up through, at times, horrendous conditions, over the years, in their understanding that “Life is with People”, the title of a wonderful book written years ago about life in the shtetls (small Jewish villages/towns… often subsets of non-Jewish villages/towns) in Europe. What went hand in hand, to allow Jews to withstand the pressures of hostility, on the outside, was partnership of community within the shtetls with the gift of Shabbat, a 24 hour period of respite and refuge from the realities of the other six days, on the outside.
When life is going well for one and all (when is that really the case in the times we live?) it is fine to be on one’s own and stretch one’s wings, doing what one wishes and pursuing personal goals. When you are in familiar territory, you may not need to ask for directions or seek another’s help.
But, increasingly, the “territory” is becoming unfamiliar. It is one thing to see a world that is changing faster than many of us can adjust in its technology…which is why it is nice to have teens around that can help us with the latest gadgets…assuming we need to keep up with that area of life. It is another to come to a realization that what we may have assumed when we were younger (perhaps naively), that our leaders knew what they were doing and would somehow, through science or other means, solve whatever problems we faced, is not the case in these times. Increasingly we see our leaders as vulnerable and even lacking in vision and commitment to solve the problems, whether as global as climate change or as local as violence in virtually any and every corner of our country.
Negotiating such unfamiliar territory requires willingness to admit that we need each other and have to be increasingly willing to ask one another for “directions”. We need to choose our relationships more carefully in terms of people that share values inherent in such programs as Judaism: thinking “we” more than “I” and reevaluating our portfolios to examine how much weight we give to relationships and time for one another vs. the tried (though not so “true”) priority of gathering more material things as determinants of our “wealth” and stature.
Another lesson to learn that is inherent in Judaism is to do the mandate espoused on Yom Kippur…to not wait for Yom Kippur to address our imbalances, but to do Teshuva (change in direction in the acknowledgment of wrong doing and wrong headedness) not one day a year, but one day before we die. The rabbis ask how that is possible given that no one knows the day of their death in advance. The response is: given that truth, you are to do Teshuva every day of your life. That translates as making amends and keeping balances with one another each day… not to wait for a special time, or when the spirit moves you. Doing Teshuva one day before you die means hugging dear ones tightly every day, not just after the tragedy in Newtown or whatever other horrors await society as we try to develop leadership within ourselves and in our governance so as to move the world closer to the Age of Shalom.
Doing Teshuva on a daily basis is not easy, especially when it seems such an individual strategy that sounds good but seems easy to forget or overlook. That is why we are in “this’ together, to support one another in our efforts to make community more than a concept or good idea…making it reality in the times we share in extending the walls and boundaries of our families and homes to create the “village” we need, and have always needed, to raise our children with the promise of a better future than how it feels right now…as I write these words.
While Judaism doesn’t particularly focus on New Year resolutions in that 2013 is a continuation of 5773, as we enter this new secular year, such soul searching is conducive to translation into resolutions that we can all agree upon in bringing important changes into the “business as usual” that otherwise reflects life as we tend to live it.
Meanwhile, I look forward to my next hug!