As we wrestle with massive incivility in the American public sphere and greater racial tension than in several decades, today I experienced a microcosm of the issues enmeshed in this current. And it was helpful.
In my Kabbalah class, we talked about the Tree of Life. The Tree has always been my deepest connection to Judaism, and each revisit, I learn something new or hear just what I need in that moment. Today, I felt the cord between Chesed, loving kindness, and Givurah, the judgement and balance needed to most effectively apply our hearts.
We talked about our speech, the importance of what we say, and avoiding ‘bad speech’. Words are the expressions of spirit ( as in, from God came the word), so our speech is holy. You know that experience of speaking joyfully and how you then become filled with joy. How different that feels from whining (all words used with intention). Do what you say you’re going to do, and you will be filled with the deep satisfaction of integrity.
I left class feeling calm, recommitted to kindness, and ready for my encounter with Anna Deveare Smith and her new one-woman show “Notes from the Field.” Long an admirer of how she makes political and sociological points by giving voice to everyday people, I was interested in how she would bring her reenactments of interviews to the raw topic of racism by the police, our schools, and the justice system.
When the show started, I grew impatient with the retreads of recent events, the inevitable pain and outrage focused mostly on Freddy Gray. Take me somewhere new. I expect this is Smith.
But, I realized, this inhumanity to humans is not new. Smith’s responsibility is not to say something new, but to be a voice for those not usually heard. I heard the school principal’s shock when a young man said prison wasn’t so bad because he had enough to eat and could play basketball. She vowed to stop the school police from arresting students. Make them stay in school. Break the pattern.
I started to hear hope in the possibility of words and actions. Not be victimized into inaction by incivility of wannabe leaders or cruelty from other forms of institutionalized power. By Act 2, I resonated with the small uplifts–the prisoner who trains service dogs for the disabled, the teacher who focuses on changing one life, John Lewis who forgave the man who beat him in 1961, now calling him brother. I spent much of the second act in tears.
We live in a very tough world, and I don’t want to be victimized by it with a continual onslaught of pain. I don’t want to turn into teflon either. The Kabbalah suggests a balance—to use good judgement and hold each encounter with loving kindness. It sounds so simple, but for me, it is the work of a lifetime.