There are important lessons to be learnt through what we can do.
There are very important lessons in life to learn from what we can’t do.
I’ve never been super-confident and often spend time thinking about what I have, or might have, done wrong. Running has therefore been really good for me. I’ve found that, to balance my work as a community rabbi, which is a great privilege, but not a role in which one can ever truly know what one has or has not achieved, I’ve found that I like doing things the results of which are immediately visible: gardening, wood work, running.
It was one of the highlights of my life to run the half-marathon with (or rather behind) my son Mossy in Jerusalem this time last year. The day still glows in my thoughts; I could tell you what I did every hour.
It’s hurt, even more emotionally than physically, to have sustained an injury to my back so that I am unable to join him in the whole marathon this year. We cheered each other on through extensive training. Now I shall cheer him on from the side-lines, and give him a huge ‘congratulations’ hug at the end.
I could have chosen not to come to Jerusalem, not to expose myself to seeing the flags and banners and kilometre signs everywhere knowing that I’ll be thinking ‘but just last year…’. However, I felt that such a decision would mean not only letting down Mossy, but letting myself down as well. It would be cowardly not to face what I have to learn from what I can’t do at the moment.
I told friends in Israel how gutted I felt at being to run and that I needed something else worthwhile to do on the day. They put me in touch with Shalva, an extraordinary centre for children with disabilities (which has such wonderful facilities that all kinds of people want to use them, a new form of inverse inclusion). ‘You can help by supporting us with our 800 metre run for disabled and terminally ill children’, they told me. So that’s what I’ll be trying to do tomorrow.
There are much more profound ‘can’t do’s’ for very many people than a temporary pause in their running.
I met the young man whose parents were the motivating force behind the creation of Shalva. He’s deaf, blind and in a wheelchair. He exudes a palpable enthusiasm for life. I learnt that: he’s been to London and met Gordon Brown, and wants to come back again; that one day a week he helps organise an aspect of Israel’s Route Six (I didn’t quite grasp in what way); and that, most importantly, he has an exceptionally discriminating palate and works another day a week as a wine-taster. I’m sure, though, he must have his down-days too, and that they must be lonely and hard. But what a list of achievements! (With the exception of his love for Donald Trump.)
What we can do is enormously important, especially by way of kindness, moral courage, justice and human solidarity. There’s always far more that we can do, and should do in life.
But wisdom is also the product of absorbing the frustration of what we can never do, or used to do but no longer can, or want to have but cannot any more, and transforming it into insight and compassion, – or at least trying to do so.
There are many people who have to struggle with this question in the most profound and challenging way, not just in connection with a run. Or perhaps this is something we must all encounter, at different times and in varying manners, at some of the deepest moments of our lives.
And ‘Next Year in Jerusalem! At least 22.1, if not the full 42.2, kilometres of it!