As a participant in the recent Jewcology Public Narrative Training—surrounded by a collection of eloquent and accomplished Jewish environmental/ social justice activists—I couldn’t help but recall the classic “sailing” scene in the delightfully goofy 1991 Bill Murray comedy “What About Bob?”
For those of you who haven’t seen the film, Murray plays Bob Wiley—a man so overcome by obsessive-compulsive fear and anxiety that he can hardly make it through his morning hygiene ritual, let alone face the world outside his front door. At a certain point in the movie, Bob is offered the opportunity to go sailing with his psychiatrist’s daughter, and—despite his fear of just about everything having to do with boats and water—Bob agrees to give it a shot.
Cut to Bob wearing a bright orange life vest– wind blowing through his hair, smile plastered across his face—shouting with joy: “I’m sailing! I’m sailing! I’m sailing!” The camera pulls back to reveal Bob strapped to the boat’s mast—literally harnessed with several yards of rope—additional life vests securely fastened around his legs for added measure.
Back on the dock, Bob excitedly relates his “progress” to his exasperated psychiatrist: “Dr. Marvin, guess what? Ahoy! I’m a sailor! I sail! Isn’t this a breakthrough? I mean, that I’m a sailor? I sail! I sail now!”
The joke, of course (evident to anyone who’s actually seen the film; I apologize if my description falls flat) is that merely being on a boat (and strapped to the mast, no less) hardly qualifies Bob as “a sailor”. Yet, it is impossible to deny that Bob has, in fact, made serious progress—maybe he’s not captain of the ship, but he took that first step and got on the boat.
So, what does any of this have to do with me, or with the Jewcology Public Narrative Training?
Well, at this point I must confess: unlike many of my fellow Public Narrative Training participants, I am not yet an environmental or social justice activist in any meaningful sense of the term. True, I’ve been an enthusiastic passenger on many Jewish leadership boats (so to speak), but I’ve hardly had the courage to swab the deck or hoist the sail, let alone plot the course or take the wheel. Like Bob, I’ve often found myself so paralyzed by fear and anxiety that I’ve failed to fully engage in the causes and communities that matter to me most; like Bob, I am still only a “sailor” in the sense of having been on board.
Which is why—after feeling truly empowered to find my voice in a room full of actual activists—I have to refrain from shouting: “I’m an activist! I’m an activist! I’m doing brilliant work on behalf of all humankind now!” Unlike Bob, I know it is not so; I still have a long way to go… one baby step at a time.
Thanks to the Jewcology Public Narrative Training, I now have a wider variety of tools, a broader community of supportive peers, and a deeper well of inspiration to get me there.
(to be continued…)