I want to write that the last 48 hours have been hard on me. And that would be a true statement. However, it’s been more than the last 48 hours that have taken a toll on me. It’s been every time This Has Happened since the mass murder at Columbine High School and even more so every time This Has Happened since Mr. Trump has become President, replete with typical self-absorbed replies and total lack of sympathy for the people who actually endured loss of family members.
Of course, this time that This Has Happened struck closer to home for me.
While not in Roanoke, it was in relatively nearby Pittsburgh that members of a Jewish faith community – the same faith I’ve adopted – were gunned down for their mere existence. The response on the internet, from the talking heads, and many politicians has been, as per usual, predictable garbage. Thoughts and prayers for everyone involved, complete and utter paralysis of action in trying to address the root issues of hate. My fiancée and I had a fairly heated discussion of the meaning of thoughts and prayers and why people do their declamations of thoughts and prayers every time This Has Happened.
If you’re not aware, I have tired of people getting shot up and murdered for no apparent reason, for reasons bound up in insane levels of bigotry or for reasons where the mentally ill have unreasonable access to weapons capable of inflicting massive harm. I think there are people in power who offer thoughts and prayers on a regular basis, who have the power to *do* something, but don’t. So to say that I’m over thoughts and prayers as a manner of accomplishing something is fairly accurate. In terms of action, if thoughts and prayers were horses, beggars would not only ride, they would rule the world.
As it so happens, I do think that being politically engaged and engaging with people, especially in person, is more effective than thoughts and prayers. I do think that calling your representatives and applying pressure is effective. I do think that shining a light on why your elected officials vote the way they do is effective. And lastly, I do think that stepping up and being the change is effective.
We live in a society. We’re not independent entities floating in space with no impact upon each other. We affect and effect each other through words and acts. Words matter. Things matter. That much I know. When we actually engage and start to work with each other, directly, we see the harm and good to we do to others. There is no avatar to hide yourself behind, like there is on Facebook, for you to belt out in anger at your Representative or scream belligerently at and threaten total strangers. So every time we think about thoughts and prayers when This Happens, maybe we do take a minute to think and pray on it, but it needs to be converted to an action, to a positive good.
After the shootings at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, may their memories be for blessings, I sought solace in a prayer book. Although I don’t believe that thoughts and prayers are themselves solutions and substitutes for acts, I do believe in the meditative power of prayer. And I needed to think and to see what sense there was to make in an increasingly senseless world and I came upon two items. One is a quote from Martin Buber and the other is a prayer.
The prayer in question is commonly known as V’Ahavta – you shall love – and is a couple pieces of the Torah cobbled together to make a prayer. The prayer is not what most people normally think of as a prayer, it is more like a reminder. A reminder to love and to be holy. It calls on us to love G-d with all of our hearts, our souls, and strength, to recall the reminders in our life of G-d’s presence, and to honor G-d’s creation.
I’ll wrap up the quote from Martin Buber, as printed in Mishkan T’filah, a Reform Siddur.
“When people come to you for help, do not turn them off with pious words, saying: ‘Have faith and take your troubles to G-d!’ Act instead as if there were no G-d, as though there were only one person in all the world who could help — only yourself.”
Be well and be safe. Vote on November 6th.