27 May 2014

Hope Can Gladden the Heart

A friend recently gave us a bottle of wine--a 1998 Chateauneuf-du-Pape--that was quite delicious.  We drank it while preparing dinner, listening to news on the radio, and glancing here and there at headlines as they came on various refreshed news sites I habitually track all day.  Kidnapped Nigerian teenage girls; another violent day in the Ukraine; the denial of global warming's evidence; and some kid, again, with his hands on a gun.  Our dog Nathan gets up, meanders about, and finds a new spot on the floor.  Maybe this time, he figures, something will change. 

It often doesn't.  Or it least not in any immediate, discernible way.  Which can be frustrating.  Despite man's penchant for the urgent and exacting measurements of reality's existence, Time, alas, is its own master.  Perhaps this is the reason, as King David taught, that "wine gladdens the heart."  It eases us into a more compliant stance with Time and its corollary, Aging, bending us toward the wisdom of its will.

Right and Left.  Believers and Atheists.  Democrats and Dictators.  Each race against, bargain with, at times even attempt to out-wit Time.  

But not too much wine.  "Better a good name than good oil, and better the day of death than the day of one's birth," said Kohelet.  "Better to a house of mourning than to the bar, for that is the end of all men and the living may take the lesson to heart."

With each death--in Santa Barbara, in Jerusalem, in Nigeria, in Brooklyn--we think it will be the final death, the final time, to learn the lesson and get it right.  But we keep on learning, don't we?  And trying.  Over and over again.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape means the "Pope's New Castle," from a time in papal history more than 700 years ago, when Pope Clement V moved the center of papal power to Avignon and a new wine was dedicated in celebration of this blessed event.

The Pope's New Castle.  A fortress becomes a wine that gladdens the heart.  The ironies of Time.  I thought of this all weekend long, watching Pope Francis arrive in Bethlehem, touching his head to the Separation Barrier, the Eastern Wall of Palestinian self-determination and the Western Wall of Israeli security; giving honor to the Palestinian dream of statehood; secreting his own prayer in the infinite space of hope in the Kotel; deploring the Holocaust; laying a wreath at Herzl's grave.  I wondered if young Herzl, writing about the Dreyfus Affair more than a century ago, drank the Pope's wine as he penned the words to the Jewish State that launched Zionism.  I beamed with pride at seeing in an email that the Pope visited Jewish and Palestinian kids at Hand in Hand, a school in Jerusalem I've come to know and love.

I marveled all weekend long, from the safe distance of Brooklyn, at a man's imagination:  for so quietly, so simply, and with such grace and dignity, giving voice to Jewish and Palestinian aspiration.  This can happen on occasion.  It can shift discourse, however briefly, to hope.

It takes a long time to change the world.  But hope, like wine, can gladden the heart.

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