The Last Shabbat: On Noach and Election 2016

double_rainbow_with_niagara_fallsFor over a month I could not write anything other than lectures or lesson plans. I could write what I had to; I could not write anything else.

How could it happen? I live a life in which my students offer me extraordinary insights on a weekly basis. My studies offer me pleasure. Learning is a daily practice – even, in a sense, a prayer. Normally, I write with enthusiasm and joy.

But for weeks since the unrest in Charlotte, I have been unable to compose a word. I have felt helpless. Why add to the accumulated grief? We have been awash in vitriol for months, nearly drowned by the flood of slanderous speech. Violent language has been so mainstreamed we can hardly imagine a political conversation without insults and epithets of the worst kind.

Today, we read Noach.

It is no children’s story. All those brightly constructed toy arks and colorful storybooks ought to be banished. We may not pretend that this story is a happy one. The flood was mass destruction, a catastrophe we know in smaller, but terrifying forms: Hurricane Katrina. The 2011 T?hoku earthquake and tsunami. The nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Mother Nature and humanity alternately cause destruction beyond words.

I imagine him when I read it: Noach seeing the nightmare unfold, the bodies wash away. Noach listening as the trees snap in two, watching the refuse swirling about the boat. He must have heard the cries.

But Noach, the comforter, could say nothing. Not before, not during. And when he spoke after it was all over, it was to utter a curse.

This Shabbat was the last before the 2016 election. I tried to create a fence around my Sabbath. I have tried this for weeks. But never, I admit, with the full measure of success I longed for.

How could I? Like everyone else who has paid a modicum of attention, I have seen the effigies, the ugly signs. I have heard screaming protesters shout appalling slogans. I have absorbed this fact: Political leaders have excused the language of sexual assault and thus, the rape culture that engenders it.

Last summer, during the first days of July, I was visiting Chicago. My husband Ralf and I walked around the city for days. On one of them, we chanced by a rehearsal in Grant Park. The Chicago Symphony Youth Orchestra was practicing for their Independence Day performance.

The orchestra was made up of young people whose heritage was obviously and beautifully diverse. Asian and Caucasian, Latino and black — who knows how many other ethnicities were part of the musical mix.

They played the national anthem.

It was the only time I ever cried hearing that piece. I cried because the orchestra’s very existence seemed like an antidote to the misery this entire nation has suffered this past election year.

It has been an ugly, unforgiving time. I have been tired even when I slept well. I am exhausted even after I try to rest.

So why speak? Why write? What is there to say?

There must be a way to turn away in order to turn towards. There must be a way to repudiate what has been in order to create what must be.

May we long for a rainbow?

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