This was originally posted on September 15, 2009. I can tell you that the giant stack o’ journals referred to in this post remains largely unscaled. *sigh* I had no idea that when I searched for this story that I would be reminded of that. Oh well…
In any event, I posted a video to Facebook, that I found on The Rix Mix today, about Dr. Martin Luther King’s other words. These are words we are less familiar with and frankly they should make you stop in your tracks. I also posted something to Facebook from the NPR website, about President Eisenhower’s words regarding the future. These are the words he offered as he left office 50 years ago today.
Anyway, this is long and you may not have the day off, but what the hell. I’m posting it anyway. Read. Think. React. Or not!
Peace to all.
I stare at a huge pile of old journals that I fished out of an enormous plastic bin from the basement.
They are the Himalayas and I must cross them. At this point, I am getting acclimated to the altitude as I work my way up. Currently I have a headache from the thin atmosphere and sheer cliffs.
In the meantime, I am deeply disturbed by the tenor of both the right as well as the left regarding politics. There was a time when I was more strident. Trust me, I am no less passionate, but I keep thinking of a fortune I got from a cookie recently.
Now there would certainly seem to be a vast amount of really loud and bitter words from one side of the argument. However, there are no shortage of loud and bitter words from any side. I see this in the multiple corners of the blogworld and Facebook that I inhabit.
We as humans tend to see things in such broad strokes and in general, with a dualistic eye. I am as human as anyone in this way. That said, I don’t really want to be that way, it is truly a quest for me.
Yes, I may be nuts.
This does not mean that we should not call others out. I think it does mean that the tenor of the calling out is often pointless and much more about shouting than it is about listening, much more about staking one’s claim and telling the other that their claim is not valid. Maybe you think the other person’s point of view is invalid.
And likely they think the same of yours. Well, wherever does that get anyone? Remember, in the last post I claimed my idealism. Idealism often might call forth shouting and arguing, that is true. However, in the end, one “side” triumphs and the other side is in wait to pounce and take back what is “theirs.”
Do we not see that playing out all over the place right now?
Shouting it down forever doesn’t seem to be very effective. That is just my experience. I am reminded of a Hasidic story, a tale of Rabbi Zusya. That story is called The Lesson, by Doug Lipman. Here is a link to the story or you can read it here with my commentary. Or not read it at all, fee free!
When Reb Zusya was a young rabbi, a local merchant denounced him publicly. The Hasidic movement, the merchant said, was a dangerous innovation. Those who propounded it were fools at best and scoundrels at worst.
When his followers came to Reb Zusya with the news of this slander, Reb Zusya merely smiled. They pleaded, “Aren’t you going to counter his accusations?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Some time later, one of Reb Zusya’s followers, known as Moishe Lieb, heard a commotion in the marketplace. A crowd had gathered around the merchant, who was spreading his opinion of Reb Zusya to any who would listen.
“He defiles the worship services! I saw him! He dances around, delays the prayers past their proper time, and insults our dignity!”
These affronts to his rabbi were too much for Moishe Lieb. He pushed his way to the center of the crowd. “I will teach you a lesson about Hasidism, you liar!”
The merchant pointed at Moishe Lieb and roared, “There is one of the fools now! See how he insults me!”
Enraged, Moishe Lieb spat at the merchant. The merchant lunged at Moishe Lieb. Had the crowd not restrained them, they would have come to blows.
I think you might see where things might be headed here…
A few days later, Reb Zusya approached Moishe Lieb. “Would you help me with something?”
“Of course, Rabbi. For you, anything.”
“Will you come with me on a three-day journey? Just the two of us.”
“Just me, Rabbi? I would be honored.”
I love the idea that they are going on a journey. As with all new understanding, we must travel to get there. Often that travel does not seem exotic, but it truly is, as we are traversing the peaks and valleys of the human heart and being.
Travel also means going places that are very wonderful, but then putting up with a lot to get there. This also means putting your own culture and expectations in place so that you might actually see, taste and touch something entirely new. Travel, when done this way, never leaves the traveler untouched, does it?
On the appointed morning, Reb Zusya led Moishe Lieb, on foot, out of the city. By the end of the day, the two of them had left the main road and were walking on a small, faint path through dry, uninhabited hills. Again and again, Reb Zusya had to tell Moishe Lieb, “Watch out – the path goes to the right here. No, it’s this way.”
As darkness fell, Reb Zusya pointed to a sheltering rock at the base of a large hill. “We’ll sleep under there.”
When it was still dark, Reb Zusya shook his companion awake. “Come, Reb Moishe.” The rabbi led him up the hill. When they reached the top and could see the narrow valley on the other side, Reb Zusya stopped and sat down in the path. He began staring intently into the valley before him. “Let’s look, Moishe,” he said.
Reb Moishe sat down next to him and stared, too. In the first light of day, he saw a parched valley below them, with two small fields of grain. Next to each field was a shelter built from rock. Down the center of the valley, a tiny creek trickled through the first farm and into the next. As the light broadened, he saw that, in contrast to the brown scrub around the fields, the two farms were lush with green.
For a long time, nothing happened. Then, just as the sun appeared in the sky, the door of the farther house opened. A man emerged, carrying a homemade, crude wooden bucket. He went to the tiny creek – scarcely more than a moist strip with a trickle of water down its center – and put the bucket where it could collect the few drops that ran into it. After many minutes, the man picked up the full bucket and began sprinkling the precious water on his field.
They watched the man water his field in this slow way until the sun was precisely overhead. Abruptly, the man looked up in the sky, stopped his work, and walked toward the farm which lay above his. As though on signal, a man came out of the near stone shelter and, without a word, embraced the first man – who silently gave him the bucket and returned to his stone hut.
For the rest of the day, Reb Zusya and Reb Moishe Lieb watched the second man patiently water his farm, just as the first man had. When the sun set, the upstream farmer walked to the downstream shelter, silently hugged the occupant, handed him back the bucket, and returned to his own shelter of stone.
At that, Reb Zusya stood up, turned around and began to walk the way they had come. Moishe Lieb followed him.
After a time, Moishe Lieb spoke. “Teacher, why did we come here?”
Reb Zusya said, “Sit down. I will tell you what I know of those two men.” He began to tell the story.
Now comes the time where shouting is pointless and only listening is the lamp to light the way. Reb Zusya, the teacher, begins to unpack the real story of what they eye can only see of two men in a valley.
The first time I came here (he said) I saw very much what you saw today – the two green fields in this arid place and the two men who watered them so patiently. Curious – and, besides, it was nightfall and I needed a place to sleep – I approached the first shelter. My host smiled and gestured me to enter. I soon discovered that he spoke no word of my language and I spoke no word of his. So, after a short time, I went to the shelter of the second farmer. To my amazement, he appeared to speak yet another language. He could not converse with me nor with his only neighbor.
Eventually, by way of signs and grunts, I learned their story. The “upstream” farmer, fleeing empty-handed from a war somewhere, had settled here alone. Even though he had no tools of any kind and he saw the aridity of this place, he hoped that the stream would moisten his field enough for him to grow a crop. He struggled to survive, scouring the surrounding area for berries and wild grains to eat and plant here. He carried water in his cupped hands from the trickling stream to his field.
At the end of the first winter, he was nearly starved and exhausted. One day, he saw another man enter this valley, carrying a large cloth sack over his shoulder. For a while the first man hid, fearing that he would be forced to return to the war he had deserted. When at last he emerged and spoke to the man, he learned that they spoke no common language. In spite of this, he soon realized that the other man wanted to settle here, too. The first man was about to drive him off when the other opened his cloth sack and took from it a wooden bucket. Overjoyed, the first man embraced the stranger as a friend and rescuer. Soon, by sharing the bucket, they were able to water both fields and live here in peace.
I left them, amazed at the simple, tranquil life they had carved from this dry valley.
A year or two later, I passed by here again. You can imagine my amazement when I discovered that the fields were brown, their crops were nearly dead, and a wall had been built between the two fields. When they saw me coming, they both came to greet me. But when each saw the other, they growled and shook their fists. Neither would approach me, lest he come too close to the other! I visited them one at a time in their shelters. By miming questions and watching how they acted out the answers, I was able to piece together what had happened since I came here last.
Somehow, they had quarreled over the bucket. Neither seemed able to describe the cause of their quarrel, but each seemed equally furious. Evidently, the “downstream” farmer had finally refused to share the bucket at all, leaving the upstream farmer with no way to gather the creek water. Then, in retaliation, the upstream farmer dug a ditch and diverted the water from the downstream field, into a pile of loose stones where neither could reach it. Now they were both unable to water their crops.
One night, determined on revenge, the upstream farmer sneaked into the other’s house to steal the bucket. The downstream farmer, however, had taken to wrapping his body around the bucket as he slept, and woke up in time to chase the empty-handed upstream farmer away. But the next day, he began dragging stones between their fields, forming a wall that neither could cross.
That was how I found them: slowly starving to death, neither able to use the water that still flowed slowly into their valley.
Such great bounty goes to waste here because they cannot agree. Now it would be oh-so-very-easy to say that whatever our own perspective is is the good, but that might not always be true. The point is how to negotiate and live with what is. Now that is hard, it requires openness, potential compromise and cooperation. What risk.
What could I do? I took the bottle of Sabbath wine from the sack I carried. I opened it, carried it to the first farmer’s shelter, and walked backward holding the wine out toward him, enticing him up the hill as you might lure a stray cat. I signaled him to stay there, then led the second farmer with the same promise of wine. They each stayed a considerable distance away from me, one above me on the hill and the other below. They showed no willingness to get too close to each other, yet they both appeared to understand that I meant to offer them each wine.
I took out a tin cup from my sack and filled it with wine. I extended it first toward one of them, then toward the other, offering the cup to them both. At last they understood that I meant for them to drink from the same cup. Suspiciously, they each approached. I brought their hands together, put the cup in their joined hands, and stood back to let them drink.
They continued to eye each other as they brought their mouths closer to the wine. Then one of them tried to pull the wine away. The other pulled back. In a short while, they had spilled the entire cup of wine over each other and the ground. They both looked at me imploringly.
I retrieved the cup, filled it again, and set it on the ground between them. This time they each managed to drink a mouthful before starting to tussle – and spilling the rest.
I filled the cup several times. At last, they had learned to drink from the same cup. By now, the wine was gone, but the two men remained facing each other on the path. The first one pointed at the wine stains on the other’s shirt and laughed. Then the second one pointed back. When the first one looked down and discovered similar stains on his shirt, they both laughed.
Dominance… someone must always dominate and have “their” way.
Rabbi Zusya looked at his companion. “That’s how I left them a year ago,” he said. “Laughing on the path. As you can see, they must have stopped trying to retaliate.”
Moishe Lieb nodded. “I see. You taught them without teaching them. Just like you taught me.”
“What did I teach you?”
Moishe Lieb sighed. “That I didn’t help you by ‘fighting over the bucket’ with the merchant.”
Reb Zusya put his arm around his companion. “I know you meant to help. You couldn’t bear to see me attacked.”
“Did I hurt your work?”
“Yes, a little. But maybe now you know other ways to help him learn?”
The next morning, the companions began the walk back home. Reb Zusya did not have to tell Moishe Lieb where to walk. By now, he knew the way.
How will we ever learn the way? I am convinced that it is through some sort of conversation and conversion. (Not always of the religious form!)
Back to the mountains, I have my own journey to under take. I hope you will join me, I am grateful to those who do.
After all, how could I do any of this alone? And why would I want to?