The devastating news reverberates throughout the Jewish world. Our worst fears have been confirmed. We won’t be able to #bringbackourboys. It’s over. And for now, we mourn. But many of us are struggling to unravel the Gordian knot of emotions, religious meaning, spiritual devotion, time, effort, energy we’ve put into these last few weeks.
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For those of us who are parents of children who have been aware of the ordeal, many are wondering, what we tell our children? But all of us are also wondering, what do we tell ourselves?
Perhaps the wisest thing I’ve ever heard about tragedy was something Fred Rogers quoted from his mother. He said that his mother would comfort him during challenging times with a pithy thought. “Look for the helpers,” he said. So simple and so sublime. For every wicked person in the world wreaking havoc and destroying lives, there are many more good people in the world who are helping others and fixing the things that were broken by the evil people.
Our minds focus on the outliers and the ones who make the most noise. But for every person doing the wrong thing, there are more people doing the right thing. We should not allow the pain to dominate us so completely that we forget that there is enough light in the world to outweigh the darkness. Most of all, we can all be one of the helpers. Say something nice. Do something kind. Find empathy. Spread love.
Children need to be reminded of this even more than adults. If they know that something sad has happened because of bad people, remind your children to look for the helpers. The emotions of a child are likely to be their primary concern. Most kids aren’t as worried about theology as adults. Adults have tougher questions and life experiences that demand a response.
Here’s what I say today: (For children who do worry about this kind of thing, I think the following would be just as applicable.)
For believers, there is a real struggle between belief and doubt. When we pray, we are hopeful and optimistic, and we want to believe. When we are crushed and depressed, we experience doubt.
The human mind seeks to make peace between these two warring factions. We want to be certain about our beliefs and if we aren’t certain that our beliefs are true, our mind’s next option is to be certain that our beliefs are false. The last resort and option that is to be avoided at all costs, is the grey area in the middle. That place where our doubt and our yearning for certainty are at loggerheads. We don’t want to be in that place. Yet, that is where life happens.
The place of contradiction and confusion is where all the action is. We want to reject it so badly and be certain of everything being true on one side or if not, everything is a lie, for sure. But it just isn’t that way at all and we need to embrace that.
We are not going to understand everything. It’s a limitation of being a physical being with limited resources. We can’t really be certain of anything which means that the best we can do is to expect a clash of feelings and thoughts.
What do we do with these conflicting ideas rattling in our brain? What do we do when our heart says one thing and our mind says another? What do we do when we want to be mad at God but we also want God to make it all better? Indeed, what do we do?
I think what we do is we learn to live in that struggle. We look at this challenge as an opportunity to make ourselves better, more complete, more complex, more nuanced. In whatever way we can grow or improve, we are using the struggle for good.
It’s not that we ignore the questions, God forbid. No. We articulate our questions, we get mad, we feel the pain, and then we dive right into those emotions and swim to the other side. In the other side we articulate our faith, in God and in people and in ourselves, we find reasons for hope and excuses to love, and then we dive right back into the battle zone and struggle with our feelings.
It’s not easy. It doesn’t simplify things. But while there is an elegance to simplicity, the most beautiful things are truly the most complex and intricate. These struggles enable us to weave a delicate tapestry that expresses our most basic human emotions.
It won’t magically make us feel happy again. But in my view, we don’t try to feel better as much as we just try to feel. Feel all the feelings, live on this precipitous cliff, embrace the struggle, and when we emerge from the fray we will have found something new in ourselves.