Has the world gone to Hell in a Handbag?
Joan Rivers might say, “If it’s Gucci, that’s ok!”
A High Holiday Message…
Sounds like a joke right out of Joan Rivers’ joke box. She always wanted us to laugh in spite of what we were dealing with, to show us we were not alone in our suffering. I had the honor and pleasure to have a 10 minute conversation with her and all the kind and gracious words said about her since her death, are true. She was the ultimate mensch.
She was the guest speaker at a Federation dinner I attended some years ago, not long after her husband committed suicide and she wrote a book about her experience. Her talk that evening was of living through tragedies and learning that others have suffered before us and we will survive, while also speaking of giving, being there for those who need, for those who have less than we do, because, “As Jews, that’s what we do.”
After she left the stage, she sprinted from table to table like the mother-of-the-bride, schmoozing with everyone. Before she got to my table, I stopped her and asked, “Can we talk?” Without hesitation, like I was the only person in the room, she said, “Of course!” I told her I had read her book and identified with it as my husband had also committed suicide. Not giving a thought, she immediately put her hands on my shoulders and said, “Are you okay? Do you have children? Are they okay?” I was so touched. She said, “I don’t know about you, but I am so angry! How dare they COMMITT to something more than to their kids!” Her concern felt so genuine. “Tell your kids, and I hope you know this too, it’s not their fault! It’s not your fault! They made their own decision!” I felt such a kinship with her, she made me feel she understood what my family had been through.
You must know that within these 9 minutes of conversation, she was quiet in her delivery, not on stage, no jokes or laughs, no swearing, just heartfelt, very empathetic and compassionate, caring and loving, a real person, a true “girlfriend.” And then suddenly she stopped talking, put her hands and arms in a contemplative/pondering position and proceeded to look me up and down, from my head to my toes and back up to my head and then starred me straight in my eyes and said, “You look great! You’ll do just fine!” And so began the “fashion police!” Ten minutes I will never forget! She gave me hope!
I’ve seen TV clips of her telling her daughter how fortunate she was, what a great life she had and that, “If I die tomorrow, all will be okay. You will be okay.” In retrospect, her looking me up and down was significant of her ups and downs, losses and disappointments, like everyone in the world, we all experience those good times and bad, but it’s how we act, not react, to the cards dealt us. As we enter the Days of Awe, we are encouraged to reflect back on this year’s blessings and tough situations and are begged to find a way to reconcile the state of the world, and ourselves. A daunting task.
For how could it be that in 2020, the most modern of times, our world is still raging about issues from ancient times? How does a virus rage on and kill so many? Why do some men want to own the world and erase democracy, re-draw maps of old and dictate how and who people should be governed by? How do we ignore the history and pain of others? Why do kids get killed by police? How does one have a routine out-patient medical procedure and die? And how do some suffer so horrifically that they feel death is freer than life? Can any of these questions have answers that give us peace?
I have no teacher, no scholar, no answers that can ease my heart in this unsettling world. Some days I don’t listen to the news but rather burn my ears with music, wanting to ease my soul. But my curiosity gets the better of me and I hear the day’s events and pray for a just and peaceful tomorrow, realizing, I can only bring peace to myself.
And as the High Holidays approach, I mentally list my own transgressions to others and wonder if we can consider forgiving ourselves for any remorse, behaviors and intentions towards others? I wonder how many people continually beat themselves up about things others may have forgotten, forgiven or accepted our apologies for? Could it be that we are more upset with ourselves for our reactions to situations? Could we possibly accept that what others “do to us” could be a learning tool to put us in touch with our reactions rather than dwell on someone else’s behaviors?
Often the behavior of someone is an indication of their suffering and when we recognize our reaction to unacceptable behavior, we may gain insight to their need for compassion. Learning about ourselves first may give a clearer vision as to how we view others. With awareness comes responsibility and maybe now we can look beyond our reactions with understanding and renewed knowledge of how suffering manifests through behaviors, sometimes good and sometimes bad.
How painful to realize that suffering can be so silent. So masked. How do we forgive the Robin Williams’ of the world, how do we understand such deep routed torment of Joan River’s husband, my husband? Do we search ourselves for compassion for all who suffer, hoping our kind, loving actions and deeds will help them while reconciling ourselves for what we didn’t see or understand? Hopefully we can make peace with ourselves by forgiving our reactions and lack of compassion.