Last week’s essay was tough. It’s always tough when you’re asking yourself deep questions (and sometimes even questions that don’t seem so deep when they pop into your head). FREEDOM – what’s it all about? If you’re a VET you fought for freedom, were willing to die for freedom. And now you’re back home and it may be a struggle – a big struggle.
Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and look inside – ask ourselves what it means to be free, to get out of our personal prisons. Maybe to relax and let go? After all, if we’re in the “Land of the Free” the struggle must be over!
How about another song? Remember, we were going on about diversity last week. I’ve another from the Jewish songbook. This one’s got a catch to it, an “I gotcha.”
And now for something different (to borrow from Monty Python) philosophically. For the Jewish people, there were two physical Temples, both destroyed. But our Sages suggest that there’s another temple, a miniature temple that’s inside every person, and that this temple is extremely important. It too must be consecrated, made holy, by living up to its full potential. It’s more than a “soul” which is ethereal because like the Temple of old, it exists in the physical world. This is the temple we each must work on continually – to refine and elevate. And of course, this is done through our interactions with our fellow humans – women and men, of all sizes and shapes, of different races and religions, etc., etc. And we know this striving for wholeness, for perfection, is not easy.
Here’re the words. At first, the words seem to let you off the hook, imply you can sit back and relax. The words are taken from Pirkei Avot, which is part of the Mishna, the written record of the Jewish Oral Torah.
It’s not up to you to finish the work (the struggle of becoming more human) – lo alecha hamlacha ligmor.
But, neither are you free from starting – v’lo atah ben chorim l’hibatil mimena. [Pirkei Avot 2:21,20]
Why? Because this is important work we’re all about. It’s so important that we must struggle on. If we fall, we get up – we’ve our friends to help and the whole world is on our team. Some may not be aware of it, but by our openness and inclusiveness, they’ll join with us, soon.
The song connects it to another verse:
To build the temple, speedily and our time – she ye baneh habait haMidrish, bemhayra b’yamanuh. [Pirkei Avot 5:20]
I hope you’ll want to listen; here’s the link. Afterward, a few words and a takeaway.
It’s a nice sing; OK – schmaltzy. But the big picture is we’re all in this together and we’ll all get through this together, helping one another. You know, we pick up a piece here, another there; fix this, repair that.
Sometimes a black friend gives a hand, or an Asian buddy shares a smile, a Caucasian acquaintance has a twinkle in his or her eye. Or perhaps it’s an Asian friend who comes to help, or a twinkle in a dark eye, or a brown face offering a smile. All of these things are possible if we have an open heart. We’re lucky to live in a diverse country.*
TAKEAWAY: We become free by becoming whole and inclusive. This is never easy work but a continual process. We all contribute and help by working together. And in unity, we will be able to find peace and freedom. It’s work well worth doing and we’re in it together.
It’s easy-peasy for me to make a shortlist of why I’m so happy we’re living in a diverse country, a mixing pot of races, religions, ethnicity, etc., etc. My wife was born in Germany after WWII and her parents’ backstory was Polish/Ukrainian and Volga Dutch(German-Russian). My cardiologist is from Pakistan, my wife’s spinal surgeon is from India. My drinking buddy’s wife is from Japan. My favorite pianist is Korean; the whole world owes a debt of gratitude to Yo-Yo Ma who is Chinese. And I had the good fortune to hear John Coltrane Quartet play in a bar in the southside of Chicago in 1962.
It was awesome. (My friend and I were the only white faces and no hassle at all.) Oh, my mother’s folks were from Turkey or Odessa or maybe Kiev while my father’s family started out somewhere in Lithuania (?) moved through Poland and the Ukraine, spent some time in Belarus before escaping to the USA. Yeah, I guess off the top it’s easy to see why I like diversity and am sensitive to the needs of refugees.
How would you like an opportunity to make your own takeaway? Get together with a couple of friends or with your partner. Pop a beer or better yet a homebrew. Make a list of the friends, music, food, support people, and others who do NOT come from your same background. Or try to go a week eating ONLY your own ethnic food or listening to music where the singers and band are all homogenized versions of your own family. (OK, try it this next weekend.)
YUP. Hurray for diversity. My life depends on it! (I guess my list wasn’t so short – not sorry about that.)
You know what? Spring’s coming up and we’ve all got projects piled up from the winter. So why not make this a do-it-yourself. We’ll call it a TAKEBACK – since these are good things inside you that you may have forgotten or not examined. Try it – get a pencil and paper and make it real.
TAKEBACK: Diverse friends:
Helpful people (not like me):
Heck, create your own list; it’s your TAKEBACK.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at email@example.com.