I’m not trying to save the world right now.
People who know me well might understand what a dramatic statement that is. I’ve been trying to save the world with my every action for at least the last fifteen years, and perhaps for most of my life. For as long as I can remember I’ve been trying to make a difference. I’ve felt the pressure of making the world a better place. And thank G-d, I’ve been able to offer some things that I do feel have contributed. Altogether, it’s been a privilege.
Almost three weeks ago now, I lost my mother.
I lost her to cancer, after a tremendous fight which included her incredible spirit and commitment to live, my father’s dedicated efforts to take care of her, and the thousands of people around the world who were praying for Sima bat Bella.
Perhaps those things brought us some extra months. After all, we weren’t sure she was going to make it through August, and she survived until February, including some very happy times together. I got the chance to share with her about speaking at the White House. We got to celebrate Thanksgiving together. She got to celebrate her 66th birthday, and to wish me a happy birthday on mine. We got to celebrate Chanukah together. She got to watch my son play basketball in January.
But we didn’t make it to spring.
The daffodils that she planted with my son a few years ago are starting to poke up from the ground. Last week it snowed, and we could see those little sprouts sticking up from underneath the snow. Now the snow is melted.
I remember last year how I took a picture of those flowers and sent them to her. It was March 15 and we had just found out that her February cancer blood marker numbers had increased ever so slightly. We were a little scared, but it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.
When I sent her the picture, she wrote back asking if that is what she and my son had planted. “Yes!” I wrote. I remember thinking at the time, oh G-d, I just hope this isn’t the last spring we share them together.
You just never know how much time you will have, with the people you love.
Everyone says that it’s common to have problems with focus and motivation when you are grieving. I look at my list of things to do and it all seems so overwhelming. It doesn’t help that I took off several weeks from work, or that it’s two weeks before Passover. It doesn’t help that I probably have more responsibilities (two jobs, motherhood, a local sustainability committee, just as a start) than any normal person should. But the very things that I usually find interesting and challenging just feel exhausting right now.
I’m very sad. My relationship with G-d has been disrupted in complex and confusing ways. It may take awhile for me to regain my faith in miracles.
I guess that is the answer to the question that everyone keeps asking about how I’m doing. And while I know that is normal, I’m also finding it very frustrating.
On Friday night I had the realization that part of my exhaustion is that commitment that I’ve had for so long, to try to save the world. Right now I barely feel like I can take care of my family: my overwhelmed husband, my traumatized son, my broken-hearted father. Most importantly, myself. And so I’ve made this declaration: I’m not trying to save the world right now.
It’s actually a bit refreshing. For example, someone asked me to speak and I thought to myself: I can choose whether I WANT to do this, because I’m not trying to save the world right now. I did some work at my job yesterday and finished it, and left it in the office and thought: I’ve done enough, because I’m not trying to save the world right now.
To be clear, it’s not that I’m not going to do the work I have assigned, or that I’m going to give up on the things I’ve said I would do. It’s really just a context that is liberating me. I can do what there is to do in front of me and stop. Because I’m not trying to save the world right now.
Last year, I got involved in a state level legislative campaign promoting wind power in Maryland. Working with our local Interfaith Power and Light, I had the opportunity to speak in support of this bill at a town hall meeting on November 3, 2011. (See the text of what I said here.) My local Silver Spring Sustainability Circle also got involved, including sending a Tu b’Shevat card to our representative. Our efforts were successful in getting the bill passed through the Maryland House of Delegates, but the session ended without it becoming law. I was really disappointed, at the time.
Just last week, the bill passed the State Senate, a significant milestone that should ensure that the bill will actually become law this year. Under normal circumstances I’d be thrilled! But I’m not trying to save the world right now.
It’s a tremendously good thing to know that even while I’m taking this hiatus, there are other good people who are still doing good work. It is also really affirming to see that my own past work still matters. So in that small way, I feel happy about this news.
So thanks so much to everyone who IS trying to save the world, right now. I hope I’ll be able to join you again soon.