The Rabbi told me a story of being buried alive with his wife and two daughters in the holocaust. My mother had argued an hour before with Russ and the Rabbi, telling them I was too young for the story. Russ told my mother I was hungry for the truth – I was hiding behind the curtain to hear my mother’s decision.
My mother was a journalist; she let me join the old men under the maple tree in metal green, rusted lawn chairs. The Irish Setters were at our feet and it smelled like lillies. When I cried the Rabbi lifted me to his lap and told me he was happy now, he was married again with children.
It’s possible, he said, to be happy again. No matter what happens to you in life, you can be happy again.
I did not believe him.
He said something to me in Yiddish which sounded a bit like my grandmother’s language from the old country.
He showed me numbers burned into his arm.
I am writing this story during a time in history when everything seems to be at stake.
John Sack, while speaking at a Holocaust Denier’s conference over twenty years ago, stood at the podium and threw his statistics aside. I finally found his words again just in time for the election and wanted to share them with you:
“Let’s say I’m in love with someone. I don’t tell myself, ‘uh-oh, I’ve got inside of me two pounds of love, and if I love her and LOVE her, then I’ll use all my love up – I’ll be out of love.’ No, I understand and we all understand that love is a paradoxical thing, that the more we send out, the more we’ve got.
So why don’t we understand that about hate? If we hate,and we act on that hate, then we hate even more later on. If we spit out a drop of hate, we stimulate the saliva glands, and we produce a drop and a quarter of it. If we spit that out, we produce a drop and a half, then two drops, three, a teaspoon, a tablespoon, a Mount Saint Helens.
The more we send out, the more we’ve got until we are perpetual motion machines, sending out hate and hate until we have created a holocaust.
You don’t have to be a German to become like that. You can be a Serb, a Hutu, a Jew – you can be an American. WE were the ones in the Philippines. WE were the ones in Vietnam. WE were the ones in Washington, D.C. for ten thousand years the home of the Anacostia Indians. They had one of the campgrounds at what is now the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
We all have it in us to become like Nazis – Hate is a muscle, and if we want to be monsters, all we have to do is exercise it. To hate the Germans, to hate the Arabs, to hate the Jews. The longer we exercise it, the bigger it gets, as if every day we curl forty pounds and, far from being worn out, in time we are curling fifty, sixty, we are the Mr. Universe of Hate, the Heinrich Himmler.
We all can be hate-full people, hateful people.
We can destroy the people we hate, MAYBE, but we surely destroy ourselves.”
The speech moved me, because there is so much hate in America, and the world. The hatred frightens me more than anything, and so many of us, including myself at times, are guilty of it.
Let’s not destroy ourselves during this precarious time in history. We are all human, we want the same things for our families, good health care, an opportunity to make a living, a better life for our children, to be cared for and understood. We don’t agree on how to get there.
I think of that Rabbi in the lawn chair often, and his message has stayed with me over the years.
We can be happy again, we will be happy again.
In so many ways the Pandemic has been an extraordinary and heart opening – not just for me. but for many of my students and friends and family.
What I learned most is this – the more love you send out, the more you’ve got. My love account feels very full.
Going into the future, I want a Mt. Saint Helen’s of love, a Pacific Ocean of Love. I want a planet, a galaxy and a universe of love, and I know how to get there.
We begin by not hating the people who don’t agree with us. This is the hardest work we all have to do and so much is being asked of us right now.
Today, and in the days and years ahead of us, don’t forget the harsh reality the more hate we send out in the world, the more comes back to us.
This is an invitation to exercise the muscle of love.
Good morning, my friends.
We got this.