Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said, “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the point of life is not to be afraid.”
Easier said than done. Especially these days, when just about everything seems to be terrifying. If the Covid-19 virus doesn’t scare you, you’re probably not paying attention. If the reports of bad behavior (hoarding supplies, profiteering on face masks and hand sanitizers, fighting over toilet paper in the stores) make it hard to focus on the good that is inside human beings, your discouragement is understandable, too. And if you are watching your business or your savings shrink in front of your eyes, the panic that follows is, simply, human. There are lots of reasons to be afraid right now.
Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”) always spoke of his mother’s words, “‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
The current pandemic along with all its side effects is proving the wisdom of Mrs. Rogers. I know the news always focuses on the bad, but as I tried to list all the people who are helping in this difficult time, I could not count them all. Doctors, nurses, health aides, hospital janitors and food service workers all come to mind right away: people who continue to do their work because they know how much worse things will be if they aren’t there. So do the police and the members of our armed forces who put themselves on the line every single day, and even more so in this time of potential infection. Then there are the cashiers and stock people in our supermarkets; the ones who staff restaurants and delivery services; the people who pump our gas, who respond to problems with the electric or gas supply, and who collect our trash; they are seldom featured in the news, but they work day after day to make sure we can go on with our lives. Beyond that are the volunteers – so many volunteers! – who respond to first aid and fire calls, who reach out to those who are isolated, who bridge the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” when “have not” can be as simple as not having a way to get a prescription from the pharmacy. It’s not that hard to find people who are helping – they are everywhere.
But “Find people who are helping” is more than just a consolation for our fear: it is a challenge to each of us. Can we find it in ourselves to help? Can we become the people who are helping?
Yes, we can. And we are. Members of Rodeph Torah have stepped up and stepped in. Adults have volunteered to shop for people who should not go to the store, to bring medicine and supplies to those who cannot get them themselves, and to make calls to people who are especially isolated by this pandemic. We received offers from our high school students to tutor younger children who might need extra help in this brave new world of online learning, and other students have volunteered to help older people who are not familiar with computers. Temple members with counseling skills have offered to speak with those who are having a difficult time, and to do it without charge. And we would not have been able to move all our programs and services online so quickly if it were not for the technologically savvy members who have given uncountable hours to make it happen.
My reason for listing all of these people is, first, so they get at least a little of the thanks they deserve. But more important, it is to give you ideas. What can you offer that will help in this challenging time? What is your special skill, or hobby, or ability that could make things easier for even one person? Maybe you can do one of the things I listed above; if so, please let me know and I’ll make the connections for you. But maybe you have something else to offer – something we haven’t even thought of yet. If so, please talk to me, or to Shira, or David, or Tmima. It could be the only reason we aren’t doing it is because we haven’t thought of it yet.
When I volunteered on the Morganville First Aid Squad, people would ask me if I was ever scared. My answer was always the same: As long as I could help, I didn’t have the energy or the time to be scared. I find the same thing holds true right now. When I am helping, I have less room for fear.
The world is certainly a narrow bridge, especially these days. If you need help, don’t be a hero: reach out to someone, because a lot of people are anxiously waiting to help you. And if you can help, now is the time to say so. We can get through this, but only if we find ways to overcome our fear and work together.
Shira and I send you wishes for health, strength and hope.
Rabbi Don Weber