So, Adat Shalom asks, “How do you rise up and find strength within you? What gives your spirit, in the words of Rav Kook, ‘wings of powerful eagles’ even when the world around you is a mess?” I want to answer, but these questions assume that my spirit takes flight with strength and resilience. Oy, Rav, where to start?
In my home, I spend time reading the news, watching the news, angry and frustrated by the news. The old news of racism, classism, and the greed and selfishness of so many of our country’s inhabitants. And the newer news of our leadership’s incompetence, corruption, and weakness. And I am afraid. Afraid for our country, our world, the future for my kids (and your kids). I worry, “Will we all learn to be decent and loving and caring for each other in whatever world emerges from our current chaos?”.
When not barricaded in my home, during my time outside I am hyper-vigilant, afraid of my fellow humans, afraid of their touch, their breath, afraid of the empty look in their eyes. When I shop, or go out for masked runs or bike rides, or go for walks in the neighborhood, I can feel my wariness and unease whenever someone approaches. Sometimes I practically jump out of my skin when someone passes from behind, an inch or a foot too close. Can my spirit soar while my body cringes?
I see people at rallies and I share their anger and outrage. I see people at overcrowded beaches and feel anger and indignation at their thoughtlessness and selfishness. But if I am honest, maybe there is a bit of jealousy mixed in there as well. I see family members in photos or on FaceTime or Zoom, some aged and frail, some young and growing and am saddened by our separation and the unknowns that will keep us that way for who knows how long. And of course, what keeps me from rallies, beaches, and family is the constant underlying fear. Fear of sickness, of pain, of death for myself and those I love. Can my spirit fly high while my emotions churn with fear and anger?
So, you see, I don’t know who came up with the idea of asking me to write one of these essays, but like Rick being told to move to Casablanca for the waters, he or she was misinformed.
Soaring high on wings of eagles? Hardly, but my spirit does keep puttering along a few inches off the ground, maybe on the wings of a crow or robin, rather than eagle. I am constantly straining to stay in the air, only able to maintain altitude, while avoiding predators, obstructions, or accidentally exposing myself to dangers large and small. I see only the life and lives right around me, a very narrow view compared to the world I used to know and care about and fight for. I feel small and my life in the world feels small.
Anger and fear are the gravity against which I struggle. Gratitude, mostly felt when I am out on my morning run (early enough so that few others are out) feels like the fuel that pushes back. For now, it’s not the awe-inspired gratitude that dazzles from the heights. But I nurture the earth-bound gratitude for my loving and beloved family, my home, meaningful work, and —so far— the health of those I love and care for. I am constantly fighting to maintain the fuel flow and maybe, now and then, to even bump up for a higher perspective. The strength of spirit to soar? With apologies to Rav Kook, that will have to wait.