Last week’s Shabbat encouragement introduced the multi-dimensional topic of suffering, sparked not only by the unusual challenges we have been facing over the past several months, but in particular, by the tragic death of George Floyd. This week’s reminder is another opportunity to see the importance of our perspective during these days of extraordinary events.
I shared during our virtual oneg last Shabbat that the media event I could not get out of my head (among others) was the video of a black father having “the talk” with his very young daughter. It was not about sex, but rather, it was teaching her how to respond if detained by a police officer. We watched this precious child of at the most seven years old repeat the memorized words of her name and purpose for being there while her little hands are raised in the air as if facing gunpoint. Partway through the trembly monologue her tiny face scrunches up as she breaks into tears and runs to her daddy for a hug of comfort.
At that moment, I realized I had never really understood white privilege and the depth of societal racism, subliminal at best, its very insidious presence. From the events of the past weeks and from that father/daughter video, I finally understood quiet suffering. Since then I have experienced personally, and we have societally, a reawakening of the need to love more, change our behaviors to more deeply be able to walk in our brother’s and sister’s shoes.
On the personal front, this week Sid and I have finally made plans to come home. In discussing these with my son, we were processing how to, or whether to, spend some time with their family on the drive back. Sid and I are all about social distancing and wearing face masks indoors so such a visit takes planning. The parental concern was whether a small child would be able emotionally to understand why she couldn’t just run over and hug Grandma Wool like always, so maybe it would be better to wait until after the vaccine, which, as a practical matter would mean no in person time together for more than a year. Previously to COVID-19 we visited in person almost monthly.
As I write this I don’t know what her parents’ decision will be. The considerations we discussed, however, may be a guide to how to approach the new normal. No, we won’t come indoors, but outdoor play, even at 6 feet away, does not take away hide-and-seek, cheering trampoline moves, running by the wagon daddy pulls, social distanced outdoor tea parties, walks in the fairy garden, snacks together, many exchanged giggles and smiles and looks of love. In person eye twinkles.
I couldn’t help but think about the difference in the conversations of the black and white fathers this week involving parental concerns for their young children. It is our job as parents and grandparents to protect our children and grandchildren. If Sid and I stopped to visit on the way home, would it be too hard for my granddaughter to understand why she can’t hug grandma and grandpa? Is it better not to upset her? Should we wait until after the vaccine? Clearly, the concerns for my grandchild’s emotional health are real, for this is the world in which we, as part of the privileged group, dwell. Yet the safety conversation of the black father with his young daughter took place in a totally different reality, one where the wrong answer could be the loss of her life.
None of us know what the future will bring, especially in the long lives of our little ones, the next generation of HaShem’s creations in His image. Perhaps with the world they entered being in such a state of upheaval they will learn even more resilience than the generations before them. Perhaps they will work even harder not only to make lemonade out of lemons, but to see the glass half full, not half empty, to live with joy, not fear, to think outside the box for ways to live full lives within unpredictable, uncontrollable limitations. Perhaps in their young lifetimes, societal changes for the better will be made. Perhaps these COVID days will teach them more flexibility and how to create happiness out of adversity, to make positive choices. Perhaps they will experience even more deeply the need for more love.
In all cases, if they let love of others be the guiding principle, if they and all of us choose love, suffering will end.