From the looks of the sleeping arrangements along Grand Army Plaza tonight in the light of the nearly full-moon, General McCrystal isn't the only one out of work this week. A lot more men are camping out these days, signs that although we are beginning to feel the spasms of optimism with a recovering economy, the pain and dislocation persist for millions. There is no denying that. Sort of.
With tonight's NBA draft out of the way, all attention will focus on whether or not Lebron James will come play for the Knicks or the Nets and from a quick tour around the internets, it appears that one industry hot on the trail of the cager sensation is the Real Estate Industry, which has its brokers jumping through hoops all over New York City trying to have various fans of the game or fame licking their gossipy chops in anticipation of a new neighbor. I don't know how he does it, but Lebron has apparently seen alot of real estate in Manhattan and Brooklyn but wouldn't it be something *yo* if he came to town and built a few shelters with his extra resources for all the men who are, as it were, sitting on the end of the bench.
What happened to that *narrative* from a couple years ago--"Yes We Can" and "Our Time Has Come?" Did we get that jaded that fast? Did we lose the focus in a flash? I walked past Aroma again today and saw hundreds of people lined up along Greene Street in Soho, stretching as far as the eye could see, down the block, toward the Apple store on Prince Street. I'm going to go way out on a limb here and guess that the iPhone 4 went on sale. And then I'm *not* going to go out on a limb here and guess that people weren't lined up to volunteer to feed, house or clothe people. "Yes We Can."
While it may seem cliche for a rabbi to write that people aren't doing enough to save the world a mere 18 months after people pulled a lever in a voting booth to save the world, that's the way the cookie crumbles (to express another cliche.)
Our endless gusher in the Gulf is the metaphor to end all metaphors. Our world's seemingly endless mess keeps spilling forth; and while one surely understands the human impulse to escape it all in the illusory fantasies of who will come to Broadway or Atlantic Avenue to play basketball, I will admit to sometimes being consumed by the fear that we've lost our grip on reality.
I think it's why I find myself in cemeteries lately. Ariel Levy's incredible New Yorker profile of Mike Huckabee and his views (among them Huckabee's deep fundamentalism and inexcusably shallow homophobia) reminded me of the importance of measuring principles with reason and humor. But it also reminded me that the Creation story--while its literalist view is indefensible--is nonetheless a powerful framing metaphor for life. "We are created as Divinely formed clay, animated by the breath of life; and after a time, return to the Earth for decomposition and eternal rest." If anything, regardless of where one stands on the faith spectrum, this is humbling stuff. The Sages were even more graphic: We come from a putrid drop; we go to a place of worms and maggots. It's not untrue.
The cemetery gives me perspective, something I've always sought since my youth. In class as a kid I used to daydream and take apart my Bic pens, leaving all their component parts on the desktop as I stared at them and thought, "This was once a pen that could write." Old radios, baseballs, dandelion flowers on a hot summer day: I could sit in the shade and take them apart, one component, one layer, one petal at a time, until their essence was reduced to a seemingly random collection of individuated parts that, divided from their whole, deprived them of their essentialness. As a teenager this led to a kind of mopey, angst-filled depression that later became, in college, *critical thinking.*
But now, when I wake up in the morning and discover each day that after relieving myself the body still works, its parts joining together in order that its conscious whole can praise his Maker, I experience both a sense of gratitude and obligation. Gratitude and obligation from the consciousness one has of "making a mess." That's downright ironic.
I married a couple at Shul tonight--it was the second marriage for each and this time around, it seemed to me, they really figured out how to do the Seven Blessings. They asked groups of their friends and family to come read them under the Huppah and with each articulated piece of sacred liturgy there was an ever-increasing emotional trajectory of appreciation for having simply made it to this point in life. The Huppah's transparent walls seemed by design to say, "See, when you've been through what we've been through, sharing is all the more easy to do." After each set of people blessed the wine, they then spontaneously blessed the couple and I heard whispered wishes and expressions of love I rarely hear under the Huppah. It was really inspiring.
Nathan and I went walking late tonight and the moon was bright over Grand Army Plaza. There was a cool wind to ease the day as we passed our neighbors sleeping on benches I whispered promises of assistance in the days ahead.
This mess is ours to own. We have no choice but to keep cleaning.