There was a tale told by Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, (as translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan): “The king’s star gazer saw that the grain harvested that year was tainted. Anyone who would eat from it would become insane. “What can we do?” said the king. “It is not possible to destroy the crop for we do not have enough grain stored to feed the entire population.”
“Perhaps,” said the star gazer, “we should set aside enough grain for ourselves. At least that way we could maintain our sanity.” The king replied, “If we do that, we’ll be considered crazy. If everyone behaves one way and we behave differently, we’ll be considered the not normal ones.
“Rather,” said the king, “I suggest that we too eat from the crop, like everyone else. However, to remind ourselves that we are not normal, we will make a mark on our foreheads. Even if we are insane, whenever we look at each other, we will remember that we are insane!”
Right now, it seems we have all gone insane. One part of the country is storming state governments with their AK-47’s strapped on their backs, because our medical and science authorities are calling for continued social distancing. While the other part of the country has reached its collective limits, that yet another black man was senselessly murdered; burning down police precincts.
Lost in all of that despair, are now more 100,000 American souls, dead from Covid. The number is too huge for us to contend with. If we held a moment of silence for each grandmother, friend, or child who has perished to Covid 19 we would be standing in uninterrupted silence for 70 days. How much more so, the unaddressed losses: hundreds of thousands of black bodies over the last 400 years; millions of Native American bodies; 700,000 bodies have died from HIV and AIDS since the beginning of that pandemic.
But we are not taking the time to mourn our dead. There have been no community wide rituals to reflect on our losses. With more than 40 million on unemployment, there is, neither, a way to metabolize the fear and angst which is as much a pandemic as the virus.
Like the king and his astrologer, how do we join in the madness of this moment, while still remembering that it is all so crazy? We need to acknowledge that, yes, we are all crazy. We are all operating from our primal tribal instincts instead of from our logic and compassion for the “strangers” in our midst. When life is no longer, can no longer be, normal can the insanity give us a new perspective? We are hearing from those most accustomed to living in trauma, that normal, never really worked for a great many people. And even those who are clamoring the most to get back to “normal” seem to be operating from a reality that is based in fear and desperation, not from the largesse we would expect if we ever were truly “GREAT”.
The craziest thing, is that like the old bad joke, we keep doing the same old things and expecting a different outcome. If it hurts stop doing it! Stop buying in to the myth of divisiveness and bigotry. Stop believing in an “American Dream” which always only worked for a few, and left the rest with crumbs. Stop reacting in fear to anyone who looks or believes differently from you. Anyone who has overcome an addiction or a bad habit knows that the longer you ignore the problem the bigger it gets; we have to stop our addiction to Othering.
Our bodies, and our planet, have a wisdom we need right now. The increase in storms didn’t get our attention; the virus only got our attention for a moment; now the fever of violence has us turning on each other, neighbor against neighbor. And still, do we not hear the weeping of Mother Earth, or the words of the sages, or the commandments given by the Divine – to love one another, to care for those less fortunate, to be stewards for nature lest it wither and disappear. We were each created from the same energy and stardust; each made in the likeness of divinity.
What if we all did something truly crazy? What if we stopped fearing one another, stopped hating one another, stopped allowing ourselves to be used as pawns in a political game? What if we beat our swords (or rifles) into plowshares, for peace within our communities? What if, instead of burying our feelings of grief and worry, we planted a tree for every life lost; renewing the lungs of our planet as a living memorial to those we love? What if, instead of being enslaved to Wall Street, we plant gardens which feed our creative souls and grow a more equitable economy? What if, instead of placing children in cages, we open the doors of our homes and communities to a shared vision of hope.
It might be crazy, but since hatred and fear are not working so well for us, can we try love?