29 June 2010

I Choose Everything

One red cardinal.
One black squirrel.
A chipmunk eating seeds.

This scene passes before my eyes as I run along the path inside Prospect Park, near the back of the Boat House lake, underneath the bridge which bears a sign saying I shouldn't be going there.  I don't even think of *not* going there, since *there* tends to be a place I've leaned toward my entire life.  I've never much paid attention to signs and rules, finding such a set of strictures to be contrary to my nature.  And since I've yet to throw a punch or shoot a gun or cause any real damage, it's generally worked for me.  In addition, I have to admit to feeling a certain kinship with whomever had to make the determination that the purpose for the sign at the bridge, which was put there in order to warn passersby by of the bridge's implied instability, was to, well, warn passersby.  And maybe create a legal comfort zone in case--like the branch in Central Park or the cement parking garage slabs in Milwaukee--God forbid, someone should be killed.

Yeah, I know those signs, I said to myself, and then barreled past them, continuing on my run while thinking about those who die, with and without signs or portents or warnings when things fall on them.  One time, I met a woman whose brother *almost* died because a street sign fell on his head, completely randomly.  We met several times over the course of the few months that he was under several doctors' care and besides listening to her concerns and worries--would he ever walk or talk again--we attempted to understand why a God of the Universe would allow such random dangers to strike at innocent people.  And as he began to heal we agreed that randomness was all a matter of perspective.  After all, branches should be trimmed and bridges should be watched and parking garages should be attended and even close to home, synagogues should be kept up.  Vigilance can be an antidote to randomness; but a watchfulness that's too close can be suffocating.  So we ease up, which can become neglect and then, when you least expect it, tragedy strikes.

Noah was righteous in *his age*, which is a distinction, the Sages say, from Abraham who was told to *be a blessing* and *walk before God*.  God decides to destroy the earth in a flood and Noah obeys God's command to build an ark and save himself along with his family and some animals.  Abraham hears that God's going to destroy a whole city and he argues with God, engages the Judge of All the Earth in a disputation about the questionable results of collective punishment.  Noah *seemed* righteous but in reality allowed the decay to occur; Abraham steps past the boundaries of obedience and questions the assumptions of the engagement.

The age in which we live requires the best manifestation of our understanding of Abraham's character.  There is simply too much that is going wrong and while it's easy to point a finger away from ourselves with often correct assessment that the mess we're in is not our own, the reality is, it is our mess to own and to clean up.  That's just the way it is.  And the sooner we embrace the epic nature of the problems at hand, the sooner we'll be on our way to fixing them.

Esau had red hair and his black haired brother Jacob emerged just after, clutching Esau's heel.  My late grandmother-in-law gave birth to twin sons (a red head and a black haired child) and used to remember to us her doctor saying when they were born, "one red, one black, one red, one black."   Esau and Jacob fought forever and the Tradition generally holds that they never made up.  Though you can find midrashim that say they did.

I recently sat with my uncles-in-law and concluded after a few minutes what I always conclude--despite their differences, their love is deep and they are enormously close.  In life, and in the text, there's what is, and then there's what happens.

One red cardinal.
One black squirrel.
A chipmunk eating seeds.

To me, the chipmunk eating seeds was the great synthesizer.  The cardinal appeared first--right before my eyes, bold, loud, you know--he *announced his presence* as cardinals often do.  The squirrel, shaded by the trees, didn't reveal himself to be black until he darted out into the sun, and I thought of my old Israeli friend Issi who once came to visit in Madison and wanted to hike in the woods because he had never seen a squirrel before and when we found a black one he was beside himself with joy.  And then I thought of black and red, red and black, and the critical role they play against one another in color theory.  But with my mind caught up in *type* I came across the chipmunk, on ground, at my feet, eating seeds left by someone who had also broken the rules and passed the barricade.

This moment said everything.
And nothing at all.
I choose everything.


Old First said...

Another lovely post. I'm so glad (and so amazed) that you can find the time to do this.

Marco Siegel-Acevedo said...

I love this post. I'm spending a ton of time in Prospect Park these days, strolling my twins to sleep (not red and black but kind of light and dark: Anya's a bit more the Latina) along paths I'd never seen before. I saw that sign after the fact-- I approached from the opposite direction, from under the bridge. This reminds me to tell a park ranger... they need a second sign. Ours to own and clean up, yep.