The events of the past couple of weeks have left many of us utterly heartbroken. This world we live in seems to be starving for peace. We’ve been experiencing waves of rage and grief at the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, of the five officers in Dallas, the attacks in Baghdad and Bangladesh, the attack on Bastille Day revellers in Nice. It seems endless. It gave me pause when I realized that that list only encompassed the tragedies so far this month. How can we retain any shred of hope?
Most of us, I believe, long for bonds of compassion between people. We long for tenderness and not hostility, gentleness and not hate. It’s hard not to feel powerless in the face of all this darkness. And feeling powerless can lead to paralysis.
We long for peace- but how can we find it? Right now, doesn’t it seem that the powers of division and violence will only grow stronger?
When our beloved chaplain Sheila Ellis retired, Dr. Jerry Friedman offered a few words of wisdom that have stuck with me ever since. In his words I heard a possibility.
Dr. Friedman spoke about the Hebrew word for peace, “Shalom”. He told us about the layers of meaning in the word, and he spoke of how Sheila lived that word in her work here at the hospital.
Shalom means “peace”, but it also implies “wholeness”, Dr. Friedman said. It’s like the word for peace contains a recipe.
Restoring the world to wholeness means to mend divisions, to include the excluded. There is no healing and no wholeness when people are discarded, excluded, turned aside. To be whole is to be together.
If we seek to make peace in our communities, we might bear in mind that the work of peacemaking is a work of restoration and repair. For me, it echoes another great principle of the Jewish tradition: “Tikkun Olam”. Repair the world. “Tikkun Olam” says: a restored world is possible, and it is our job to work towards it.
But how do we restore and repair, when all we want to do is lie down and cry?
“Tikkun Olam” is a very compact antidote to powerlessness. It’s an imperative, it tells us what to do. It’s personal. It contains a possibility: a better world. It doesn’t tell us how to do it, it doesn’t tell us whether we can complete it. Nonetheless, it has a galvanizing effect.
“Tikkun Olam”, for me, encapsulates hope: it doesn’t just show you the destination, it contains an energy boost to help you get there.
Despair feels powerless. Hope is powerful. Let’s have a little hope, then, because we have work to do.