The sky is an angry, hazy orange; California is on fire…again. Earlier this week Betsy, Aaron, and I spent two and a half days in our house with no power enduring searing heat without air conditioning, lights, Wi-Fi, phone, or TV; I spent hours lost in Department of Water and Power voicemail hell, my temper rising with the temperature while all the food spoiled in the fridge. This morning I watched the news as Dr. Fauci told us we were in for a rough fall and winter and the politicians babbled on with their lies and self-interest in the name of the public good. Before sitting down to write this message I made a few calls to check up on some of the Temple members I know are suffering--one from a brain tumor, another from impending divorce, another from a broken heart, another from a kid in serious trouble. I suspect I am not alone in carrying the anxiety of a world filled with so much frustration, uncertainty and pain. Simply put, it’s a lot. Which means I sometimes have to work pretty hard to pull myself out of the funk of it all. Today, a group of five-year-olds made it easy.
This morning I Zoomed with our new Brawerman West kindergarten class. The topic was a concept known in Hebrew as HaKarat HaTov—remembering the good. In order to help those fidgety, precious, beautiful children grasp the idea of optimism and focusing on the good, I held a half-full (or half-empty) glass of water up to my camera and asked them to tell me if the glass half full or half empty. Their hands shot up and every one of them shouted “Half full!” Then I held up a bagel and asked them if they saw a bagel or a hole. “A bagel,” they yelled, as if we were playing some sort of game. Little did they know it was not a game but the essence of being a Jew and the most fundamentally important world view. To be a Jew is to privilege the good despite the terrible. Remembering those squirrely, laughing, yelping children this morning and their amazing capacity to see only what was full, not empty, and the bagel not the hole, helped me remember some things I had forgotten about this past week.
There was the candlelit dinner we had outside in the backyard the first night the power went out. The neighborhood was poignantly still, dark and quiet as we sat in the glow, enveloped by the warm breeze. We talked of everything and nothing much with our son Aaron and his girlfriend; secretly marveling at how he has grown. The next day my buddy sent me a hilarious video of a seal barking in a pattern just like the Shofar calls—Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, Tekiah Gedolah and I had a good laugh. Betsy and I spent most of the next night talking at the kitchen table by flashlight while munching popcorn we made the old fashioned way in a cast-iron pot on the stove. We dreamed out loud of future grandchildren and finishing our house in the desert where we will grow old together under the stars; she painting in her studio while I write at my desk.
The dogs snored in their beds and crickets chirped outside as we worked our way down to the un-popped kernels at the bottom and licked our buttery, salty fingers with a smile. I looked out the window to see the waning moon; reminding me that Rosh Hashanah and a New Year will soon be upon us. Between now and then the moon will shift from waning to waxing, from loss to gain. Like those laughing children, may that slim crescent of light, that glimmer of hope against the black sky, remind us all to see what is beautiful and good even in, especially in, the darkness.
Love and Shabbat Shalom,