My, what a year it has been. Who would have thought last September we would be at over 200,000 Americans dead from COVID? Who would have thought we would be in a recession with millions of people out of work? Who would have thought we would have an election whose legitimacy is already being questioned over a month before it occurs? Who would have thought that Israel would be shut down a second time, just before the Hagim?
We cannot change these realities and we ignore them at our peril. However, we can acknowledge the heroes who shape our world. We are always in awe of our Health Care First Responders, who daily put their lives at risk to care for the most vulnerably ill. Thank you. We also need to be in awe of parents of young children who in addition to working, now serve as their children’s teachers, tech gurus and all-around helpers 24/7 without in person school. We need to be grateful for older siblings who have even more responsibility in taking care of their younger brothers and sisters. We need to be mindful of people in the sandwich generation who while taking care of their teenage children are also the caretakers for their aging parents who increasingly have needs that must be met. We need to be thankful for grocery workers who put their lives at work for very little (if any) hazard pay. The mail men and women who deliver with far less funding and resources to do so. The retail shop owners or restaurant workers who work just as hard-if not harder-for fewer customers and who struggle every day to stay in business. The sanitary engineers who have a growing amount of trash that they need to collect. These people are heroes too. If anyone feels left out, let me reassure you that each of us is a hero during this unprecedented, crazy time.
What should we as heroes do to enter 5781 in the best way possible? First, we should recognize all the extra things we have taken on to adapt to COVID-19. As human beings, each of us has a limited bandwidth-we cannot exceed it, or we risk burnout. While we might feel we are “not doing enough,” many of us are working as hard as we ever have, and we must maintain balance and stability. Second if we feel overwhelmed or at risk of burnout, we need to slow down so that we can be there for those we care about most: our loved ones and our family members. A congregant told me last week that he plays “multi-dimensional chess” and can juggle all the balls in the air. That is great; I cannot do that. When I try to respond to an insurmountable amount of emails in record time, someone gets hurt. Either it is my daughter who I am supposed to be watching during that time or it is a congregant whose email I rushed through without a second thought, moving on to the next. Each of us needs to be aware of our limits and with Gevurah (wise boundaries) we need to know when to slow down and take a step back. Third and most importantly, we need to find time to be “human beings” rather than “human doings.” Many of us (myself included) have an abundant Zerizut, energetic response, or “urge to get things done.” That is great but when our urge to accomplish greatly supersedes our ability to be present with whatever is going on, it is problematic. We need Hodayah, gratitude for what is our reality currently is in the world, even if we wish it were otherwise. Without acceptance for what is and recognition of what is not in our control, we cannot succeed with what we must do on a given day.
How does this connect to our heroes? Our heroes, who I am gracious for every day, have limits as to what they can do. They had to adapt to homeschooling their children, talking to elderly parents on the phone rather than through daily or weekly visits, making ends meet on far less income, working from Zoom with all its wonder and all its technical difficulties, being called in to an emergency response at a moment’s notice much more frequently than they were in the past. Our heroes, each and every one of us, did this with serenity and grace. Each of us has been there for one another at this time when the thing we value most, coming together as a community and a congregational family, has been taken away from us. We need to appreciate one another, how our lives have been drastically transformed in these 6 plus months, and how while we are struggling, we have not thrown in the towel and given up.
What we should learn as we begin New Year 5781 is that we should never take the people around us for granted. We need to be mindful and grateful for who they are and all that they do for us. Let us understand that no matter what we do, we need to recognize its importance. Those things we take for granted, as “our responsibility” but are extra strains on ourselves and our families are things for which we need to give ourselves a pat on the back. I hope that everyone listening in recognizes how complicated our lives have become but also understand all that we have done to adapt to a COVID-filled world. Let us not be hard on ourselves for the times we have fallen short but instead recognize that we are heroes to our families and to our communities. Ken Yhi Ratzon, may it be our will to do so. Shabbat Shalom v’Shana Tova.