This year’s holidays come in the wake of a tragedy that has painfully sharpened awareness of the vulnerability of innocents to violence to an overwhelming degree. When I found myself still reeling from the terrible news from Connecticut, a single song from a Christmas CD (“Thankful” by Josh Groban on the album “Noel”) helped me forgive my own powerlessness and provided me with a sense of renewed direction. (Please listen as you read on.)
I have listened to this song again and again all week long. I have listened again today.
It’s not the ideas — in the first verse — of forgetting to look around us – forgetting to “look for the helpers”, as Mr. Rogers said — that mattered so much to me. It’s not the gentle reprimand about being so caught up inside ourselves that we take when we should give.
Tonight we pray for what we know can be
and on this day we hope for what we still can’t see.
To pray for “what we know can be;” to hope for “what we still can’t see” — how deeply comforting to validate the significance of the wish even when we have no vision of the means to manifest it.
The music of Christmas helps my heart. I think it reaches a universal place in the soul, and in doing that, it is able to span even beyond its tremendous religious significance. This song, on the album, was followed by “The First Noel” — which I have always associated with an image of a lone evergreen on a snowy hill with a bright star in a navy velvet sky — though I suppose it was nothing like that at all, of course — but the picture embodies peace in the purity of the snow, in the sacred bond of mother and infant, in the light of truth and love in the sky, in its innocence, so lovingly conveyed in “The Little Drummer Boy,” as well. Not least, the music of Christmas brings back to me, poignantly, even in the midst of tragedy, our potential for joy.
So this is the hope, this is the star to fervently pray for, even though we cannot begin to see the path to purifying our planet with its light of truth. We don’t know how, but it is in our hearts, nonetheless. We are human. We are limited. We can only lay this long-stretching path one brick at a time; that is inherent in being human and perhaps not a deficit at all.
But it is also this message that comforts me, that affirms where I am right now: the message that what has happened — and our raw awareness of what can happen in the future — this is too big for us not to cry today.
Look beyond ourselves; there’s so much sorrow
It’s way too late to say, I’ll cry tomorrow.
Each of us must find our truth;
It’s so long overdue.
I am so shaken, my heart is so heavy. But there is real value in my holding in my heart that vision of a world that is carpeted by a fresh covering of jubilant wildflowers reaching for the sky – implicit their innate purity of spirit and the beauty of being free to bloom; the preciousness of each blossom celebrated and protected, a world swathed in love and care — even if there is no path in sight. In that connection of hearts and hopes, we are no longer powerless.
I suppose the answer lies in our teaching our children well; they are the fresh covering that can choke out the hatred. I believe that my part, what I can contribute, is to free, in some small way, within each person whom I touch, the power of their essence and to provide the nurturance for that seed to grow — because it is in ordinary genius, it is within the essence of the human core, whatever visible covering chances to surround it, if it is not silenced, if it is amplified and allowed to heard, that our solutions will appear, and in which, perhaps, they already exist.
Even with our differences, there is a place we’re all connected.
Each of us can find each other’s love.
So for tonight we pray for what we know can be
and on this day we hope for what we still can’t see
It’s up to us to be the change
And even though this world needs so much more
There’s so much to be thankful for.
The world is no stranger to terrible things; its sorrows began before us and will almost certainly extend after. Oh, how we wish our children did not have to ever know! But that’s not our job. Our job is to be there when they find out, to help them have the resilience to cope with what they know and still remain optimistic about life. It is our job, through our own courage, to show them that although hearts break, they also heal.
If we cannot fix the world for them, what then? I hope you will find in this final treasure, as I have, compassion for our limitations in what we can do, indeed in what we can even envision:
“It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work,
but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”
[(Avot 2:21) attributed to Rabbi Tarfon.]
For me, that means to do what I can do to make the world a better place — for one person at a time.
Wishing you comfort and joy, as well,