I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me
-Superman, Five for Fighting-
The cure of the soul begins with a sense of embarrassment, embarrassment at our pettiness, prejudices, envy, and conceit; embarrassment at the profanation of life.
-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel-
There must be a thin line between feeling grateful and feeling guilty.
-Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer of Speaking of Faith-
September 1, 2008 marked the start of Ramadan for Muslims. It's a month of fasting, introspection and giving. It's the month to become aware of one's spiritual weaknesses.
September 1, 2008 marked the start of the Jewish month of Elul, the month that precedes the High Holy Days. It's a month of intensive personal preparation for the New Year. A time of self-examination of one's spiritual, physical, interpersonal and communal responsibilities.
It's odd how my life sometimes just nudges me to PAY ATTENTION exactly when I need it the most.
I had my recurring nightmare again last night--the one that reminds me I have responsibilities greater than myself, and I need to PAY ATTENTION.
So...I woke up pretty shaken after this nightmare. I sat down with the newspaper & a cup of coffee, and from there I clicked on American Public Media's Speaking of Faith website. I had listened to a mind awakening piece on The Origins and Impact of Pentecostalism during my walk yesterday and I wanted to learn more.
Instead, I ended up reading Shiraz Janjua's powerful essay about fasting for Ramadan with Rabbi Heschel's words echoing in his head, Of Veggie Omelets and Cognitive Dissonance.
Shiraz asks, "How do we live our lives when part of us is so grateful for all our blessings, and the other is so guilty about all we have in the midst of all the brokenness in this world?"
How do we watch the news or read the newspaper and see something so horrible happening to someone else, and then just go on with our day?
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer, Speaking of Faith
I woke up this morning around 4:45 a.m. to eat before my day of fasting. To keep myself from passing out into my leftover veggie omelet from the night before, I turned on the TV. It was about 4:55 a.m. The first thing that confronted me as I scooped food into my mouth was the destruction of Haiti. People standing in mud, broken. Helicopters dropping off bags of food, long lines, the complete absence of buildings. The government has apparently stopped counting the death toll. Without numbers, the reporting on Haiti is going to end up even further down from where I found it: the last report of the hour.
Following the report, the beautiful, dark-haired host smiles with her moist lips and signs off, wishing me a good day. A good day? Are you mad?! I’m ready to intentionally deny myself food to try vainly to understand where I stand in this world. As I’m eating, there are people on the other side of the glass who are traumatized after three (or four?) hurricanes. And the host has the gall to wish me a nice day? Did she even watch the segment that just aired? The cognitive dissonance was a bit much, but there I sat with my leftover veggie omelet, my juicy organic yellow peach, my full glass of milk, and my disgust of the human race, cursing at the screen. I heard Heschel blaring at me, at the newscaster: “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
At 5:30 a.m., I went back to bed, to catch a few more hours of sleep before heading off to work. I lay there wishing for a red cape and blue tights and the chance to fly across the continent and do something. But you never see Superman fighting systemic poverty, or downgrading hurricanes by flying in a counter-Coriolis trajectory. He fights Lex Luthor.
It’s the afternoon now. I’m still hungry, but come 7:23 p.m. tonight, I’ll eat. I can. Yet today, my life feels like the platitudes of that news anchor. I saw something horrible, yet I got on with my day.
In conversations I’ve had with friends on this subject, the answer is invariably that it’s my duty to live my life more fully and more appreciatively, that the more tempting response of sullenness isn’t going to help anyone. Instead, bring your earnestness into whatever else you do. Working here is important to me because I can integrate my skills and energy toward something that is, in my view, part of some larger solution. And that’s good. Still, every time my cheeks stick from thirst, they drag my thoughts back to this morning, faithfully as a dog on a leash.