There’s been something lovely, this unlovely week. I keep picking up my phone to look; not just in addictive anxiety at the latest on the US election, but at the newest postings of pictures from nature, – swans, trees, autumn leaves – in our new WhatsApp group MasorTeva, Masorti Nature, our local Jewish version of Nature Watch.
These are some of the things which keep me going during these complex, strange and difficult days, aside from my family, guinea pigs, dogs and all, whom I’m so lucky to have.
Ordinary beauty: the deep red of the crab apples, the orange and brown of the fallen leaves, the moon, the red-patched faces and yellow-tinged wings of goldfinches.
Kindness: I don’t know why, but what happened when my grandfather died came back into my mind. I’d finished 6th form and was helping at a primary school in Brent. ‘Go home,’ this lovely, warm-hearted lunch lady said, ‘that’s where you’re needed.’ This was 45 years ago, but those few seconds of her smile, her look of deep understanding, still bless me.
Kindness: K. who found asylum in our house for some months, and is now one of the family, calls to say he’s come across another refugee who has no food. ‘Please help him,’ he says, ‘Let’s help him together.’ A message comes through from D. ‘Do you have a buggy in the baby-equipment pool for a local Syrian family?’ One lives to learn to be kind.
Poetry and song: one verse can nourish the spirit periodically for a lifetime. Autumn poems have been following me around, especially Yeats’s Wild Swans at Coole:
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans…
Torah: the verses, arguments, lore, law, and music of Judaism. A word is not just one word but seventy voices: Do you understand it this way or that? The fierce pursuit of meanings, precise, exacting, combative, across the cross-referenced interpretations of generations, mutates into something timeless: is that your voice, God, in the spaces between and the silence beyond the letters?
Prayer: I love our Jewish prayers, (as those of other faiths no doubt love theirs). There are so many kinds of connection, not just with our community of today but zooming across time: the prayerbook is a receptacle of the spirits of generations, those who wrote them and repeated them, putting their souls and struggles out there into the infinite. In them are my father, his grandmother and all the teachers and wanderers who knew the words by heart and, turning toward Jerusalem from many lands, spoke them into the ether.
Among, or beyond, or hidden within all is God, or, at least, what I think of as God. I only know these moments of interconnection, when the echo-chamber of my head is quiet, except for the flow of the one and same consciousness which gives life to the trees, the birds and the winds which move them all.
I’m far from unaware that these current days bring many difficult matters: 25 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the commemoration of Kristallnacht, Remembrance Sunday, the AJEX parade (online only) and, no doubt, politics of every kind.
But through and beyond the anguish, it is these simpler, purer, gentler things we live for. Quietly, insistently, they form our knowledge of right and wrong and create the person we aspire to be. They bring us strength of spirit and resilience; from them community and faithfulness are built.
They are what countless young people longed for when they died on battlefields. They are what I hope the world’s children will live for and grow up to cherish.