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My heart is breaking for my country

Friday, August 4, 2017

From The Greenfield Recorder, Saturday, August 5, 2017 -- Faith Matters series

By Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener, Temple Israel, Greenfield

We are, too many of us, uninterested in understanding people with whom we disagree. We are afraid to air our ideas at family dinners and across backyard fences. How can this be good for us? How did we get this way? How can we gain widsom when we cannot examine many points of view? How can we feel connected when we silo ourselves in echo chambers that repeat back to us what we already think?

Theh experiences of Native Americans and Black Americans and immigrant waves of Caucasian Americans, and on and on, each tell us a different story, dissonant stories. We are all of this. We are the dream that drew us here.

Many stories can be true. Varied stories can live side by side. We are a land of opportunity and we are a people who built our first economy on the backs of enslaved Africans. We are an aspiring country and we are a country that crushed the dreams of so many. We are a wealthy and blessed country and we are a country filled with want and despair.

My heart aches for the legitimate fear of black and brown people here. My heart aches for the young men and women with so little hope that opiates become the soothing balm for self-medicating. My heart aches for the children of fear and addiction and poverty. These are shared problems, shared pains. We all suffer from this lessening.

My heart aches for black men and white policemen who look at each other and don't see each other, who rather see someone to be feared. The divine image in each person is drowned in a legacy of mistrust and too little real meeting.

My heart aches for people stuck in cubicles with little chance for meaning and advancement. We are less as a nation when so much creativity iss drowned in meaningless clock punching. We are devoid, in some ways, of meaningful, society-building, noble work. Depression and failure to thrive is rampant in our next generation.

What is missing here? What does give us meaning and purpose and connection?

I went to the capitol for the 4th of July to pray, sing, meditate, and to be with other Americans. As I walked, I asked people what to pray about, what to pray for. What is something we can all say "amen" to?

For myself, I prayed for a sense of remorse. Remorse, to me, is a feeling of accepting responsibility for the harms I am party to - directly and indirectly, intentionally and unintentionally.

Remorse for the hard and judging thoughts I have held about others might lead us to a better meeting. Remorse for the harms of hatred and exclusion might open us to new relations. Remorse can bring me to grief for your grief, even if I did not cause it directly.

The most common answer others gave me was "Peace." The second most common response was a sharp intake of breath through clenched teeth, as in "Where do I begin? Will you slam me if I'm on the wrong side?"

I stopped accepting the "peace" answer after the third time. If we wish for peace, don't we have an obligation to look for the obtacles to peace, and pray about that? If we wish for a healthier national conversation, don't we have an obligation to explore our judgements and our fears and our assumptions?

When I pressed for these deeper conversations, people answered me from a more heartfelt place. These were the answers I got, from tourists, national guardsmen, men and women celebrating our national holiday in our capitol:

"The guidance and courage to do the next right thing."

"Friendliness. These senators get along great until the cameras roll."

"The courage to ask when we do not know."

"The lessening of pain."

Can I get an "Amen?"