One human gesture at a time

April 21, 2011 in Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers, What gives you hope? by Aaron Rubinstein

What gives you hope?

I recently read an article that showed a graphic of a nearly completed circle. The writer explained that our brain hones in on the gap and that we mentally complete the shape. The article went on to describe our persistent focus on mistakes, shortcomings, defects – and that it is hard for us sometimes to see our strengths, the items we have managed to check off our list of tasks.

Three small snapshots…

1. Once a week I spend a half an hour with 3rd-5th graders looking closely at prayer, singing or reading, having a conversation about symbols, puzzling over the message of the writer. I challenge them to summarize their thought or insight by boiling it down to something that could fit on a bumper sticker. Each week I am struck by their creativity and focus. Those students remind me that they are taking it in and that they are illuminating their path with questions.

2. On Tuesday evenings I sit in silent meditation with a small eclectic group. We come from many backgrounds and callings. Their quiet presence is a powerful embrace that strengthens me in ways I find difficult to translate into words. I am reminded “just how big” Infinity is, and that our shared humanity dwarfs the parochial agendas that divide us. I have come to yearn for our group meditation – it feels like a sabbath for a parched and weary soul.

3. Through a chance combination of events (was it really chance?) I found myself in a small group that assembles once a month at Confederate Park to share food, toiletries, and some clothing with homeless people. We are well aware that our supplies will run out fairly quickly and that it would be too easy to view our efforts like the uncompleted circle I mentioned earlier. It’s so hard to put a dent in such a deep-rooted set of issues. But when I meet folks from Mid-South Peace and Justice, when I’m handing out sandwiches (how many rabbis get to hear themselves ask “ham or tuna” I ask you…) I remember that mending the world happens one human gesture at a time.

The big picture floods back in – I’m freed from the criticism of the incomplete circle. Rabbi Tarfon (2nd Century) taught us that we need to be realistic: the task is too big for us to complete, and – at the same time, we need to be resolute – we are not free to walk away from the challenge. So we share some food, a bit of friendly conversation, someone remembers us from last time, we begin to chip away the encrusted anonymity and we help each other become human… and in a short while, the supplies run out. So we pack up. Next month, we’ll mend a little more.

At the Seder we will chant: “All who are hungry, come and eat! All who thirst for the Spirit, join our table!” I will take my seat among friends, among my young students, among my fellow meditators, among the homeless, next to Rabbi Tarfon. The hope is warm. It is delicious. It smells marvelous, intoxicating. Hope will fill us. This year we are (still) slaves. Next year, may we be free.

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