Anyone alive today is the child of those who survived, and thus survival is in our DNA. Someone, somewhere, kept walking when they could have stopped. Maybe someone reached a hand out to keep them going. Maybe they marshaled their inner reserves to keep going. However they did it, they walked on.
I lost hope in this country and have been feeling exhausted by our current situation. It’s not that I ever believed this country was without its deep flaws or didn’t recognize that it was built on oppression of others; it’s just that I thought (hoped) for a while that maybe we were finally realizing the potential for this democratic experiment and for a system that cared for the planet and its inhabitants. And then the election happened and all my hope went out the door.
In looking for hope or ways to cope, I started thinking about my own personal resiliency. Resiliency is keeping on when everything is arrayed against you. I have never been in the worst of the worst for which I am so very grateful. But just living as an aware and engaged person in this society brings up its own need for coping in the ongoing acts of working for change. Since the election and all the concomitant threats being arrayed against those whom I love, including the planet itself, I, like many others, have looked for and been part of creating the resistance. And it’s amazing. Far from being a small lone flower in the crack in the sidewalk – we are a massive garden in the middle of a concrete jungle! Millions of people are standing up, writing their elected officials and coming together for support and inspiration. New generations are taking to the streets. Eyes are focused on local elections and there is a demanding of accountability to our purported democratic processes.
But these actions haven’t been enough for me to shed my sense of loss, of my despair at a dying planet and troubled nation. I feel I have been moving in a fog of cynicism and despair, devoid of hope. My only prayer has been that people turn away from fear and greed towards loving one another and this beautiful Earth. I have had trouble moving beyond my sadness at the state of the world and the inadequacy of my actions.
So I started thinking about resiliency and the role of resiliency in my own life. I have been so fortunate to have not known despair and trauma; to have had it pretty easy even in my ability to choose to live a more alternative life style in my younger years and follow my passions for working for a better world and being in service to those ideals. And I always had hope that things were getting better – even when Reagan and Bush were elected, even when we went to war (again), even with the anti-abortion backlash in the 80’s, even with the rise of the tea party, I believed that society was moving towards each other, towards caring for each other and the planet.
Now I’m not so sure. My commitment and my actions do not waver but my lack of hope is bringing despair. Our beautiful ocean is choked with plastic, beaches are uninhabitable, water is undrinkable, the air is fouled and people are killing each other in greater numbers it seems than ever before. And these realities combined with our current political situation have me existing on the brink of despair. Where is the recognition of our shared humanity? Where is the recognition that all the jobs and improving economies of the world aren’t worth squat if our environment is so fouled as to be uninhabitable, if some people’s success is built on the backs of others?
So resiliency. All of these questions bring me back to resiliency and to how we are all children of survivors. Of people who kept going day by day even in some of the worst of times. My Irish and Hungarian ancestors fled to the US in search of a better life. My Jewish people kept going in the face of persistent persecution and oppression. I often wonder if I would have been one who survived. But I am determined to move forward. To continually look for the good and renew some modicum of hope – to move beyond just anger at the sad state of the world.
I inadvertently bumped into a woman the other day. When I apologized, she said. “It’s OK. I’m breathing.”
“It’s OK. I’m breathing.” Simple. Profound. To wake up every morning still breathing. Rising to live another day, come what will. My tradition invites us to start each day by saying Modeh ani lefanecha ruach chai vekayam. It means, essentially, “Thank God I’m alive and there is breath in my soul! Her words just reminded me that when it all comes down to it, that is reason enough. To just wake up to fight, to live, to love another day.
And then Shavuot happened. Shavuot commemorates the spring festival and the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai. It is a gathering of celebrating and learning. We gathered to explore the path of pursuing justice and in coming together, we renewed our spirits. We talked and sang about tending our own sacred internal fires and the role of community coming together to build this world from love – Olam chesed yibaneh. And I feel renewed. And grateful. All the desperate action of doing in the world is not enough if there is not a cultivation of the being. Through tending my own internal fire, I am able to rekindle my hope.
There are so many words of comfort and inspiration:
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Mishna 2:21)”
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
― Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
― Elizabeth Edwards
“You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
― Maya Angelou
I assemble these words, these songs, these prayers and I weave a tapestry of comfort. I call on the all those who came before me to be strong within my blood. I reach my hand to the one next to me and we walk on together. Walk on. Walk on.