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Earth Etude for Elul 2: Reflections on The Challenges of Living with Fear and Hope

by Maxine Lyons

I find new signs of hope and gratitude for the changes that I feel are beginning to surface despite the anxieties and sadness I feel for the families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, and for the heightened consciousness of racism. We are living through a time when many forces are coming together with the potential to change our daily lives, setting in motion systemic reforms to our institutions that could dismantle systemic racism. I feel fearful that social upheaval or outright rebellion could de-stabilize us as a country or alternatively, could re-set the direction for substantive, positive changes. Here are a few themes describing how I am experiencing living through these challenging times of fear and possible hopeful change.

Change agents: I am heartened by the gatherings of protesters and social justice advocates who fill the streets, people of all races and ages who are “living into” the signs they carry, but are they going to carry on the messages of those signs in meaningful ways? How can we share the communal responsibilities that our practices teach — that we all are of equal worth and importance? I ponder how the tragic consequences and deaths from the virus and undoing of racist practices might serve as tipping points to move us so we can begin to enter a real paradigm shift. 

Heroic health professionals: I gain strength and hope from this inspired doctor, (Katherine Gergen Barnett from the Department of Family Medicine at Boston Medical Center) who, in an exquisitely sensitive voice, says: “In practicing medicine through the pandemic, I can no longer place my hands on the shoulder of a patient or give them a hug for comfort. But I can help guide their storytelling with some gentle questions, and I can listen. This telling and receiving of stories help my patients start to make sense of what is happening in their lives and what is born becomes a kind of control to regain their agency and begin to heal their traumas.”

Naturalist perspective: At Walden Pond in Concord, Thoreau “sheltered in place” not because of a dangerous virus but believing that his cabin in the Concord woods was a place to pursue his total immersion into and appreciation of the natural world. As Cody O’Loughlin says (in Lessons in Constructive Solitude), (For Thoreau) “nature was a communicating consciousness and he wanted to make himself available to it.” Many of us have known in these past months the pleasures and relief in outdoor activities in natural places for their regenerative influences and healing.

Perennial questions to answer: What do I value most, where will I set new priorities, what really matters, after all? How can I meaningfully keep tikvah (hope) alive? My personal response is to love my close family and friends more fully with an open heart and mind. In this past year, I embrace my grandchildren and cherish their laughs and continual changes, as they crawl, begin to walk, and gain the confidence to stand bravely. Adults too have to stand up bravely against injustice, to stand in support as allies and anti-racists, and to be in good standing with the best intentions for the right transformative values.

My teshuvah, my personal turning: 

In these uncertain times, I am using my Jewish and Buddhist practices to find meaning in crisis, living the unknowns with no road map to show where this journey ends. I am focusing on enabling myself to become a more peaceful “warrior.” We need to elect more courageous and humane leaders in our government as we also become the most holy versions of ourselves. My teshuvah means acquiring an ometz lev (a courageous heart) to work with ongoing dedication to integrate my thinking, studying and feeling so I am able to contribute my part to the radical changes that are needed.

Maxine Lyons enjoys sharing her annual submission to Etudes that starts her preparing for Rosh Hashanah. She continues to participate in multi-racial interfaith gatherings, and finds involvement in Zoom classes and joyful times with friends and family. She loves summer gardening and enjoys her indoor gardens and succulents throughout the seasons.

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