This morning, after waking once again at 5 a.m. freaked out about the state of the world, Gaza and Israel specifically, I eventually gave up on fretting myself back to sleep and listened to an On Being interview with Sharon Salzberg. The host referred to something Salzberg, one of the foremost mindfulness meditation teachers, wrote earlier:
“The way the world bruises us, as we make our way through life, can weigh us down. Clouding our mind can also be the concerns of everyday life, the crises we anticipate, and those we are experiencing in the present. On top of that here is the news blaring at us from manifold directions, and in the eyes of many, much of the news is bad. We all have staggered home, overwhelmed by the world, and slumped on the couch, unable or unwilling to do anything to correct this collapse.”
When considering the horrendous and extensive war, I've collapsed some on that couch (both real and metaphoric). What to say as an American Jew caught in an emotional blender of despair, fear, compassion, anger, avoidance, complicity, heartbreak, blame, numbness, and even hopelessness yet also living a sweet, calm, and lucky life in the heartland? How to say something without adding to the pain of others?
Like any of us with our hearts open, I grieve for those suffering in life-shattering ways in Gaza and Israel as well as Ukraine, Russia, and other points of impossibility. I'm also scared about the blatant rise in anti-Semitism, even in my town and synagogue. In early November at our annual Blintz Brunch, we had not just the usual police outside the door and security on staff (the situation for most synagogues for years), but a detailed active shooter briefing before we started, then an officer in a bullet-proof vest right inside our entrance.
I feel powerless in light of the big impossibilities, but I'm aiming myself off the couch more and toward the glimmer of what I can do, which is entirely relational.
Some weeks back, our synagogue held a small talking circle in which each of us could say -- without cross-talk or discussion -- what was in our hearts and on our minds about the war, a few weeks old at the time. Getting a bunch of Jews together to talk without commenting on what one another says can be a stretch for my people, but not at this moment. We were hungry to listen. We wanted to witness each other's words.
A few weeks ago I had a difficult dialogue with a Muslim woman in Texas on email, which can be such an inflammatory medium. She took offense at something I wrote about supporting Israel, and at first, I took offense at her offense. Some hours after reading her email, I read it again out loud and to Ken, and lo and behold, I realized I agreed with what she was saying and the real issue was a conflation of supporting Israel's right to exist with Netanyahu's tactics. I wrote her back a clarification, and we were able to meet across the miles through our words to find common ground to mourn, lament, and despair.
Just yesterday, a writer I very much admire in Tennessee, who is also a veteran and knows a whole lot about what war and its magnification of trauma look like over time, reached out to me. I wrote back, both of us focused on the collateral and long-term damage being done as well as how this is all so much more complicated than two sides of a conflict. It was another bridge across the abyss.
I find myself hugging people a lot more lately as we ask with our eyes how we are. Beyond sending money to good causes to help people in dire situations, there's this: how we take in and regard each other, recognizing our common humanity.
Sometimes it's only the common ground of our despair. Or the commons of being lost, confused, and hopeless. Or the commons of witnessing what's happening, looking at the news and each other and saying, "Yes, I see this too."
While meeting in the commons here doesn't address the destruction of tens of thousands of homes or the agony of not knowing if your loved ones will come home or survive on the other side of the world, it is one small place we can meet, learn, listen, and perhaps even act and speak.
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