As I walked toward the Federal building on Wilshire today to join the Pro-Choice rally, I started to have what I have rarely ever experienced… a panic attack. And I didn’t know why.
As I approached the protest alone, no sign in my hand, just hoping to be counted as someone who showed up, my heart started to pound. I wandered the length of the people, and walked to the curb to join the protesters chanting and hooting and waving signs, not knowing what exactly to do with myself. I paused next to a small group of people banging on percussion instruments, and someone put one in my hand. I started striking the drum stick against the bell along with the communal beat and… cried. With each “beep” of approval from a passing car or “woo” from the protesting crowd, my eyes welled up again, and I still did not really understanding what was triggering this reaction. I fought back the tears (trying not to look like an idiot crying on a street corner while banging on a bell in the middle of a protest), but the release was immense none-the-less. And then it hit me why this was happening.
We all are carrying around so much pent-up emotion these days. We all have so much doubt and fear about the future of this country and other countries embracing extremist views. We are worried about the environment, our freedoms, our rights, bigotry, war, and hatred. It’s noisy, and if we just carry on… go to work and feed the dog and hang out with the kids, we can kind of ignore the cacophony for awhile (and that’s important too, because life also has to continue and 24/7 of feeling like this may drive us all insane). But the reason I cried is because I had to stare right at my fears by standing with those protesters… fear that our rights will be taken away, fear that our government is inhumane, fear that we are heading toward ecological disaster, fear of war, fear that the current level of hatred and anger of this world is insurmountable. I just couldn’t keep it all inside anymore.
After the tears, and several rounds of letting out my emotions on a bell, I gave the instrument to someone else to bang on for awhile and started to walk away. I must say I felt a little better. And as I headed to my car, I started thinking about what I was supposed to write a blog about today (this wasn’t it), which led me to chanting the Shema to myself over and over, like a mantra.
I was going to write about our last Shabbat when we talked about defining God as Memories. I won’t get into all of why… that will be another blog someday. But if it is so that God=Memories, then it turns the meanings of the prayers we say at Shabbat inside out and upside down, including the Shema. Here is the traditional translation of each word of the Shema.
Shema (Listen or Hear)
Yisrael (The people Israel – let’s expand it to ALL people)
Adonai (our substitute name for God which means “my Lord” but Adon also means Master or Leader so… “my Leader” is a possibility)
Eloheinu (our God)
Adonai (see above)
If God=Memories, then we could theoretically translate the Shema alternatively as this: Listen, everyone, I am led by our Memories, I am led toward Oneness.
I cried today because for so many of us, our memories of this time in history are and will continue to be painful. I cried because of memories of a time when we weren’t all so afraid. I cried because I fear for the future I won’t see, and the memories our children will have to endure. I cried for the memories being formed by women who can’t make choices, by immigrants who are being separated from their families, by the children who have been in lockdown at schools. But as I chanted the Shema on my way to my car, I remembered that these memories are the fuel for how we handle tomorrow. We are led by these memories, even if they are unpleasant, and we CAN lead ourselves toward a time when more of us see the connectivity in all things, that we are all part of One, and that we better start acting like it.
Shema Yisrael.. Listen everyone.
Adonai Eloheinu… I am led by our memories
Adonai Echad.. I am led toward Oneness.
May the memories of today, the joyous ones and the painful ones, lead to a future with more understanding, compassion and connection. And if you feel panicky one day, like I did today, maybe this new translation of the Shema can provide you with a mantra in times of struggle.
But don’t walk away from the fear. 🙂
For inspiration, hear our Shema here.