Thursday, September 9, 2010

vintage HL: into the wild

on sunday evening, mitchell and i were guests at a lovely wedding with a hauntingly beautiful ceremony. partially, i think this was because it was in the sanctuary of a synagogue, and therefore adorned with all manner of biblical and cultural artifacts in addition to the customary flowers, chuppah and aisle markers. also, the huge floor to ceiling window at the front of the room looked onto green and swaying trees in the just-dry air and sprinkled shadowy glints of light on the ceremony at different moments. the bowing branches of leaves seemed to move easily with the cantor’s voice as he chanted the bridal march and what are known as the “seven blessings” in hebrew.

throughout the ceremony, i felt rooted in my own tradition and at the center of something very holy, very special…an age-old tradition having nothing to do with dresses and flowers, cocktail hours and limousines. thank god for modernizing…what’s a party without these accoutrements?

but for the moment, i focused only on the rabbi’s thoughts – about the couple about to seal their union, about the ancient ritual of marriage, about the significance of symbols like the ring and the veil and the shards of broken glass. and my mind buzzed at the simple commandment he shared: “clear a path in the wilderness for god.” and he said it again, “clear a path in the wilderness for god.” this didn’t resonate to me in a religious sense, but more on a human level. i equate his reference to “god” with kindness, goodness, compassion. and clearly, the wilderness is life itself, survival often a trying task.

you know when you finally find the words for an idea you feel has been bouncing around your head forever? that’s what this moment was for me. i always challenge myself to leave as positive an impact in my wake as possible. it’s that thought that keeps me doing what i think is the right thing to do, even when i don’t want to. it sometimes operates out of guilt, and other times out of pride and conviction. it translates to picking up a piece of garbage even if it isn’t mine, paying a deserved compliment rather than staying silent, doing good even when it's hard, and when no one's watching…clearing a path in the wilderness.

later on at the wedding reception, the celebration began with the whole room dancing the hora, a traditional dance of celebration and revelry, popularly known as the point in which the bride, groom and their families are lifted in chairs as their guests dance around them. this part of a wedding is always my most favorite moment, for its sheer lack of inhibition and its unrepressed happiness. it’s a moment where i feel restored and i can’t stop smiling, tears rolling down my cheeks. i would feel this way even if i didn’t know the bride and groom, and maybe even more so. it’s the universalness of the feelings that get me every time. looking around the room sunday night, my heart swelled as it always does, taking in all the laughing, beaming faces…so much love, so much joy… no thoughts about bills or groceries, about doctors’ appointments, about overtime at work. certainly no thoughts of road rage or gossip or hate. all together in that moment, and in others like it, we clear a path in the wilderness for each other, and for the kindness and compassion the world needs.

it’s easy to forget the lesson when there’s no rabbi to command, no band to provide a soundtrack, no dance of celebration underway…as we drove home that night, anxious to get home to our new kittens and get to bed before work the next day, we both bristled at a fellow driver overstaying his welcome at the light that had turned green. i caught myself about to complain, and mitchell about to honk…and reminded myself to instead, clear a path in the wilderness and be kind – the driver too wanted to get home, i’m sure, and maybe needed an extra second or two to react. it was late and dark, and we were all tired.

it is most definitely a wilderness out there…and we need each other’s kindness to survive.

originally posted 8/5/09

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