Trying To Make Sense
Part 2: Sources
I wrote the story of my friend who was killed outside a coffee shop, run down by the thief who was fleeing in a getaway car. My friend had stood in line behind the perpetrator at the coffee shop, saw the boy take the less than ten bucks from the tip jar, followed the boy outside and was run over, sustained serious head trauma, died several days later in the hospital (see “Trying to Make Sense” part 1).
I accompanied his brother (also my good friend) through the next days, spoke his eulogy at the big Church at the funeral, attended the memorials at the site of his death (the coffee shop), accompanied my friend during his meeting with the perpetrator and his father when the boy was released from jail.
After having written as much of the story as I was willing to tell at the time, I thought it through more as I received many messages, comments, inquiries in the days and weeks since I had written and published the story in a variety of places.
I thought more about living through, that is beyond, one’s negativity; the possibility to release what we carry around within that we all know is poison. It’s not about whether we are justified in our anger, or vengeance even, it’s about living larger, expanding beyond the greatest challenge which is justified anger.
I may have every reason on earth to be mad, to be sad, to be frustrated, to be inconsolable – that is the worst – because I can make a good case for it. The question becomes more a measure of peace-making: how to make peace, if not with others, certainly with myself. Or: with others as a result of making it with myself.
I recall the story Swami told about the dog’s curly tail. You will not straighten out the dog’s curly tail, he said, but in the course of trying, you may straighten out yourself.
I am a source-text-go to the library-search out a book-tease out a little wisdom kind of guy. Every once in a while, I find myself acting like a find my silence-let the truth rise before me kind of guy, but this time it was the library.
I found my text and a good source for the wisdom I felt was being practiced, on me anyway, when inspired by the magnanimous gestures of my friend in growing up out of the terrible mess of the death of his brother.
In the holy Torah, the book of Genesis, after Joseph disclosed himself to his brothers, who had sold him out but still did not recognize him until that moment as the viceroy in Egypt he had become. He then sent them off with gifts to return to Jacob and the rest of the family in the land of Canaan, tell their father he was alive, and bring them all back to Egypt.
Joseph’s last words to his brothers were “. . .do not become agitated on the way” (Genesis 45:24). They have a caravan of goods, their brother had become a holy man, (“it was not you who sent me here, but God,” Joseph in Genesis 45:8), and they were going home to reunite their family. What did they have to become agitated about?
Rashi the poet (11thc.) offered three interpretations:
1) do not occupy yourselves with a matter of halakha (law),
2) do not take long steps,
3) do not quarrel along the way about the matter of his (Joseph’s) sale.
Rashi called this the pshat (the plain sense of the text).
That’s an interesting Rashi, I thought. This is how I have come to understand Rashi the poet, what he has taught me out of the past, and what I have come to know as a visionary plan for peace-making:
1) Don’t get theoretical. Stay away from general principles. Make peace out of relationships, person to person, not theory to theory.
2) Take small steps, one at a time, make peace manageable. Peace will take time. Start with something: a meeting between persons, between factions, a talk, a treaty. Start with a cessation of hostilities: no more hurt.
3) Peace starts now. Stay out of the past, out of guilt, recriminations, who did what to whom, begin the peace now. Stay away from blame and shame. Let the peace begin.
So it was I continued to write the story that my friends, out of their tragedy, had drawn me into and forced me to ask myself some of the most difficult questions I have asked.
Another one of my favorite teachings, perhaps another article, has to do with the difference between answers and responses. Here I will close with these responses, not characterized as answers. Answers — too elusive, too difficult for most of the situations that are this challenging — I will settle for responses.
Let them be good responses, thoughtful, rooted, unburdening.
james stone goodman, united states of america