Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Peace and "holiness"

I had intended to write about prayer today. The thoughts have been bubbling and forming, even through an incipient headache, but right here, right now, there's a different post forming, so the prayer post will have to wait its turn. (Sorry but there's a limit to my willingness to sit at the computer during the buildup to a headache.)

One of the ideas that I think stands in the way of peace is how we perceive people who choose peace. All too often, the person who chooses, day after day, the path of peace is seen as set apart, holier than the rest of us poor mortals, the better sort of person. And when we find out that someone who's been so far elevated was really a human being with failings and difficulties, we feel betrayed. How dare this holy person make a bad choice? How dare they be a real person?

The rabbis teach that every person has two impulses, the yetzer ha tov, or "good" impulse, and the yetzer ha ra, or "bad" impulse, and that each of these is there to serve God. Wait a second, I hear you saying, how can my "bad" bits be there to serve God? For instance, the person who wishes to shed blood should direct that wish into ways that will ultimately benefit the community: a surgeon or a shochet (kosher slaughterer). The rabbi Shammai had a terrible temper, and he struggled to harness that fire to the study of scripture.

There is a wonderful story that one of the great rabbis dreamed one night that Moses came to him and took him on a tour around the world, answering questions about Heaven. Moses answers that some people who appear to be virtuous are actually struggling with concealed vices, but points out one person and says, that one will surely come to heaven. But why? the rabbi asked. That one is only a clown. Ah, Moses replies - do you know what a clown does? Every day, he makes people smile and lightens their burdens for a while. Today, he was hired for a wedding and settled an argument between the families with a joke. Yes, he will certainly be welcomed.

Peace, I think, likewise is a choice we make every day, every hour. We choose to help people put off their burdens, to come to each other in positive ways. I remember learning Russian back in the 80's when it wasn't such a popular thing in my hometown, and how many lessons I learned aside from just, "Da, ya studyentka. Vui studyent?" Later, my dad found out that the Red Army Chorus was travelling the US and got two tickets. He and I went together to see that, and I can remember seeing the tears rolling down his cheeks as he heard "God Bless America" sung with a Russian accent. When the house lights came up, he said that he could remember being taught air raid drills as a child, in case the Russians came, and he never imagined they'd come like this. I still have the playbill with the signatures from when Dad took me to the stagedoor afterward, and I tried out my heavily accented Russian, and they used their heavily accented English, and I saw a bit of an echo of my dad's surprise in their faces to hear Russian with an American accent.

It's little things that bring peace, chosen again and again. And it's not easy, but it's how I've seen it happen. It's like walking - we all want the superhighway to zip us there, but the truth is that we get there by putting one foot in front of another and slogging through.

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