Thursday, July 3, 2014

I'll Take 'Caring Too Much'

Like many people, I was deeply distressed by the news that kidnapped Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel had been found dead; that they most likely had been killed shortly after they had been taken. In a conversation about the news with someone I thought I knew, I added my ongoing concern with the fate of the kidnapped Nigerian girls

"Well," he said, "that's none of my concern. I don't care about that."

"How can you say that," I countered - unable to hide my astonishment. "They are part of the human family. What is happening to them is horrible."

"That's your problem: You care too much about too many things you can't do anything about." 

I took a deep breath and released my shock. One more breath and I was fully present. "Your assessment is correct," I said. "I do care about the outcome of a lot of things that are not in my control. Still, when you ask me to put yourself, someone you love, or an issue whose outcome is important to you and me in my prayers, I do. When you were stressing out about how to handle a sticky situation with your family, I listened and heard your desire NOT to handle the situation the way you always had because you really wanted a result that would work for your family and not just you. I can see by your face you know the big ticket item I could pull out - but I won't. My point is you have benefited from my caring. So, how dare you throw it in my face as a weakness. However, I do thank you for letting me know what you really think of me. Lastly, if the choice is your brand of personal or tribal selfishness or caring too much I'll take caring too much any day. Every day. Every time."

The narrow heart my colleague showed is, undoubtedly, similar to the heart that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and his colleagues used to decide in favor of Hobby Lobby and their desire to exclude covering certain forms of birth control, even though they hold investments in such items, from the health insurance they offer their employees. Now that a "religious exemption" has been codified for businesses, look for suits that allow them to avoid hiring or serving women and gay people on the basis of their religious beliefs. While the justices were clear that the religious exemption could not be used to justify race-based discrimination, it wouldn't surprise me if there are more than a few lawyers analyzing the language of the ruling to see if there is space to get a camel through that needle's eye.  

There is a midrash (rabbinic story) about the moment the waters of the Sea of Reeds closed on Pharaoh, his soldiers and horses (Exodus 14-15), drowning them all. In short, it says that the angels cheered at the sight and the Holy One silenced them, saying "They, too, are my creations." 

I know we are all creations of the Divine One, including those who do not believe in a divine entity. Sometimes, all I can do is be a witness to another's suffering and pain or joy and happiness; praying that the former decreases and that the latter increases. If that causes me to be labeled as "caring too much" it is a small price to pay for owning my humanity and honoring the humanity of others. When the world is turned upside down by acts of terrorism, human selfishness or hate, like U.S. Soccer goalie Tim Howard, I do what I can to save what can be saved and stay mindfully aware of my surroundings in hopes of being ready for what comes next. Fortunately, unlike Howard, I don't end up with as many bruises or sore muscles. Today, though, my heart aches for the families who have lost their sons and the families wondering why - after two months - their daughters are still missing. 

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