posted on September 22, 2020
“Although there may be nothing useful for you in my words, perhaps this example of ready obedience will not be wholly unprofitable to you.”
Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses
I began this post as note of thanks to a dear friend who had sent to me on Sunday a moving and very much needed letter of support. As I was writing I thought perhaps it might be of value to others out there and decided to take the risk of sharing. I first posted it on my personal Facebook page; however, given the increasing sense of hopeless and even despair I am encountering in myself and so many others, I decided to share it on this blog as well.
As too many conversations I have had in the last week or so bear out and as a glance at the posts on Facebook confirm, there is an immense amount of suffering among those for whom I care most deeply. And every day we are confronted with more stories—personal, familial, local, institutional, national, global, and environmental—that add to this burden of pain. All of it brings to my mind again on this final day of Rosh Hashanah the words of one of the greatest thinkers of the last century, the German Jewish intellectual, Walter Benjamin—written only months before the catastrophe of his moment became too much for him to bear (the 80th anniversary of his death at the age of 48 is next Saturday): “The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious.” His desperate words seem to be reconfirmed everyday now.
Looking for something to latch onto, I encountered two things Sunday morning. The first was an email message from a dear friend and mentor, Tom Moylan, who wrote:
“It all may sound crazy, but it’s not. It’s the conditions within which were living now. It’s the clash of structures of feeling, carried out in our very bodies and emotions. Doing critical work, doing deep reading, teaching and writing and organizing is what we must do to keep the space open to move to the horizon. For that yes we need hope, and faith and love.
And that brings us to fidelity and solidarity to and with each other. We can’t/won’t do this alone. You my friend are not alone, as you well know.
My love to you this sunny Sunday morning.”
These moving words reminded me how much now more than ever we need to reach out to those who love and support us and I encourage everyone to do so and do so often: for it is only by making us feel alone, as if we are the only ones engaged in the Sisyphean struggle to push against the nightmarish tide of hate and fear crashing down on us, that the enemy will be truly victorious.
Secondly, I flipped open, as I often do in such moments, a book of Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditations, and on the page I read the following:
“Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, such as the blue sky, the sunshine, and the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, anytime.”
“Each day many thousands of children die of hunger. The superpowers have enough nuclear warheads to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful.”
“If a child smiles, if an adult smiles, that is very important. If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”
Reading these words reminded me to do what I have often done throughout the past year, to take a brief moment in my beloved’s partner Susan’s garden. The summer swelter has finally broken in Florida, and while the sun is not out yet, the light wind is beautiful and refreshing. And although the first signs of the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ are evident, there is still much life and beauty in the garden. All of it makes me smile.
A number of people have told me they find a bit of happiness in my photos of the garden, so I decided to share with you a little of what I encountered today.
It is my deepest prayer this morning on the dawn of new year that all of you can find some peace and happiness and something to make you smile every day. I was reminded today that there are many, many people who love and care for me, and I know that I feel the same for each of you. It would be naïve to guarantee that we will get through the dark times still to come; however, if there is any hope of so doing, it will only be together, each of us supporting the others. So take care of yourself, smile, and please let others know what they can do to help.