Twenty-six years ago I sat in the Judean Hills overlooking Jerusalem and listened to someone chant Eicha, the Book of Lamentations. We were celebrating Tisha B’Av, a day that commemorates virtually every bad thing that has happened to the Jewish people.
I was 16 years-old and struck by two conflicting feelings/thoughts:
1) “I wish this would end so that my girlfriend and I can go find somewhere private….”
2) These terrible things happened to…us, to my community.
And community is something that I think about quite a bit for all sorts of reasons. Â Here on my blog I think about how to build a community. I spend time trying to figure out how I can be true to myself as a writer and still involve the people that come here to read my words and share their own.
In my personal life I think about community for a number of different reasons. In relationship to my family I think about community and how it applies to the laws and customs regarding death. I think about community as it pertains to Shiva and my family.
I am grateful that so many people have come out to sit with my family and to try to provide comfort. There is an understanding that people are communal creatures and that we do better when we support each other.
Outside of my family the boys and I do what we can to help each other in whatever way we can. We sit around the table at the diner and swap stories about this and that.
“It’s the economy, stupid”
Someone mentions that history repeats itself and I nod my head. I throw outÂ “It’s the economy, stupid” and we nod our heads together. It was a campaign slogan that Bill Clinton during his first campaign but back then we didn’t care about it the way that we do now.
Now we are all fathers in various states of marriage and or relationships. As young twenty-somethings we were too busy trying to start careers and or find companions to warm our beds. No one worried about mortgages, private school tuition or how to contend with a crazy ex-wife.
But now is different. Now we nod our heads and laugh at the idea of retiring any time before 60 and even that is pushing it. I suspect that even if we won the lottery most of us wouldn’t consider retiring at 60- but there is a difference between working because you want to and because you have to.
At a table nearby I overhear some guy saying that anyone who is struggling now is doing so because of their own poor choices. I don’t realize that I am staring at him and it it doesn’t take more than a moment for him to notice. He stares back at me and I refuse to break eye contact.
I look at him and say that compassion is in short supply and then I turn back to the guys at my table. One of them looks at me and says “relax.” It takes a moment for me to realize that my fists are clenched and the vein in my forehead is protruding.
I smile at him and tell him it is ok and that I have no desire to mix it up with anyone. He laughs and says that is the most compassionate thing he has ever heard me say. I laugh with him and tell the boys that I am thankful for their friendship. Twenty years ago there would have been a lot of smart ass remarks made but not anymore.
Today we understand life differently than before. Today we do the best we can toÂ demonstrateÂ that we understand compassion by supporting each other. Life has been different than we expected it to be but we have a long way to go before this story is over and there is optimism.
One of the guys says that maybe we’ll get lucky and find a way to stimulate the economy the way it was under Clinton. We shrug our shoulders and nod our heads. It is hard to say what things will look like in six months, a year or five. But I am optimistic because to do otherwise is simply unthinkable.