It’s high time we changed the conversation. I know unequivocally that the whole world is sick of every conversation starting with: “The case numbers today.…” Or “Two people died today of COVID.” Or “I can’t believe how many idiots wear their masks around their chin!” Or “I’m so tired of COVID!”
Boo-Hoo. Enough ready!
Full disclosure: I am 100% guilty of some or maybe even all of these statements. And tons more that I’m too embarrassed to admit. It’s been so long. Oops, there’s another one. In my defence, I’m trying to change the conversation. For instance, I’ve caught myself saying, “I’m feeling hopeful today” several times this week. I’ve even been inspired to say “Thank you” instead of “Why me?”
We are all human barometers. Our mercury rises and falls in direct relation to the medical experts’ latest pronouncements. We hold our collective breath each time they opine. We hang on every word. And because their world rotates around COVID, ours does, too. But does it need to? The answer is a hard no.
It’s long past due to think thanks. In the past 18 months I can honestly say I’m thankful for participating in Zoom classes every day; walking more; connecting with cousins I barely knew; and meeting new people on the virtual committees I attend.
Thank you G-d for my community, my Torah learning and for endless opportunities to make life better. Thank you for allowing me to survive the pandemic. On second thought, just make that, thank you G-d.
I acknowledge my gratitude. Also, my vulnerability and dependence on G-d. An avowed believer, I’m not embarrassed to admit this. Even among avowed atheists and agnostics.
What I want to say is this: it’s time to celebrate. Not go-out-and-get-drunk celebrate. But, rather, celebrate the small victories. There are zillions of them. Or so I’m told. I’m guilty of seeing the defeats first, but I truly am working on it. Acknowledging this, here, now, I’m humbled to realize that there are infinite lessons I need to learn.
At a women’s Torah study class I attended a few months ago (via Zoom, of course), the instructor posed some simple, yet profound, ideas. Juxtaposing anxiety and positive thinking, and how they relate to emunah (faith in G-d) and bitachon (trust in G-d), she suggested we look at struggles with a different mindset: “What’s the opportunity here?” If you are a Torah-believing Jew, you know that there’s a purpose in whatever G-d throws at us, as individuals and as a collective.
On a personal level, we just have to figure out what that purpose is. Sounds simple, right? Not. Even. A. Little. As the instructor suggested, if we turn our habitual thinking around, we might just be able to parse the purpose. In other words, whatever happens to me, it was G-d’s idea, so what do I do with it? How can I maximize my potential? What’s being asked of me? While the world and its vagaries seem random, they’re far from it.
Life will actually become easier if I stop fearing unknown and challenging situations, and accept that there is always a purpose there. Of course, that’s easy to do when things are going well, but the minute I feel threatened or scared, my anxiety and fear goes from zero to 100 in seconds.
Faced with terrible tragedy, it seems impossible to believe that G-d takes care of us all the time. If He did, why would people be faced with horrific situations that rob them of loved ones, threaten their health and jeopardize their livelihoods, etc.? At times like this, our emunah and bitachon face their biggest hurdles.
How many times have I heard the phrase tracht gut vet zein gut (think good and it will be good)? On the face of it, brilliant. In reality, next to impossible. Notice I didn’t say downright impossible. It’s impossible-adjacent. I try it on occasion, but have difficulty with the carry-through. I assume it’s more of a fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of thing that needs to be hauled out of the closet more than once a month. I must start wearing my rubber bracelet with the saying stamped on it.
There are always more questions than answers. What is this ____ (fill in the blank) meant to teach me? What does G-d want from me? How can I stretch myself spiritually, emotionally and intellectually? How can I turn this situation around to find something positive here?
In my 65 years, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that life is a series of journeys, rather than a destination. Or, to use an analogy my father, z’l, favoured: life is like swimming in the ocean. You swim and struggle and get tired. Then, you reach a little island where you can rest and gather your strength. But the water starts rising and you have to start swimming again. So, you begin the process all over.
I guess the message here is to enjoy the short stints on the little islands of calm. Appreciate them, embrace them, then prepare for more challenges. I guess the trick is to look for more islands and steer ourselves in that direction. How hard can it be?
Hmm…. I’ll let you know once I dry off.
I have few, if any, answers. However, it’s probably more important to ponder the questions than pontificate about things. Humility trumps arrogance, after all. Like the saying goes, the more we learn, the more we realize how little we know. We can remedy that somewhat with some good old inquisitiveness, a dash of openness, an attitude of show-me and, well, you might just find one of those islands. Or, at the very least, float for awhile, while you enjoy the sun on your face.
Just remember to always wear sunscreen.
Shelley Civkin is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.