Jan 7, 2017

Words for 2016/2017

My word for 2016 - the sentiment that I chose to define my year - was "stability."

Der mentsh trakht un got lakht, as the Yiddish saying goes: man plans and God laughs.

The year wasn't all bad, despite the overwhelming themes of grief (Jon's dad), uncertainty (Brexit), and fear (Trump). Our friends have gone above and beyond in supporting us and loving us, and we've discovered some wonderful new relationships over the past twelve months. Last January, Jon and I each started new jobs that are incredibly fulfilling. Charlie has continued to mellow out as he leaves puppyhood behind, which makes our lives a lot easier. We spent a super fun week in Barbados, visited my sister in North Carolina, continued our tradition of renting a cabin in the Shenandoahs for a weekend in the summer, tripped up to New York City a few times, and did lots of more local adventuring. Our marriage has strengthened as we've proactively tackled challenges together. Through the chaos - possibly in part because of it - we've both grown in ways I couldn't have imagined a year ago.

So, even only taking the good into account, perhaps "stability" isn't the best word to encompass a year. There's nothing wrong with being settled, but life is never static; we're constantly moving forward.

In that spirit, my word this year is "perseverance." My late grandmother's 1955 abridged OEOD defines perseverance as "the condition or quality of continuing steadfastly; constant persistence or endurance." We have a lot to face this year and there are some things on which compromise is not an option but, as my guests on Friday night reminded me, the pursuit of justice and peace is a marathon, not a sprint, and hope can be found everywhere.

We had an amazing conversation over Shabbat dinner about what does give us hope amidst all of the despair in the headlines, and one friend talked about her faith giving her strength through the knowledge that this world wasn't broken by us but that it was created broken by God. Another mentioned tikkun olam, "repair the world," a concept understood by classical rabbinical teachings dating back nearly 2000 years to be a crucial responsibility for Jews. I've been thinking about those two theses all morning: that we were given an imperfect world, and that our covenant with God and the social contract we share with each other requires that we do everything we can to fix it even though we know that the task is unending.

As Jon and I talked through what we'll be doing over Inauguration weekend - there is a teach-in on women's rights at Politics & Prose and I'll be volunteering with DC Central Kitchen on Friday, and then we'll both be participating in the Women's March on Saturday - I remembered a tweet thread posted by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg the other week. She pointed out that the Jewish concept of tzedakah, which is generally understood to mean "charity," actually comes from the Hebrew word for "justice." There's another Hebrew phrase, gemilut hasidim, that means "acts of lovingkindness" and is more appropriate for the kind of charity to which we're usually referring when we talk about participating in community service. However, charity for Jews in the sense of tzedakah has a moral imperative. It is not only given out of love but as an act of redress; it is a way to repair the world.

So this year, when I get discouraged or complacent, I will remind myself of tikkun olam and of tzedakah. As so many of us are these days, I will remind myself of the quotation that Martin Luther King paraphrased from Theodore Parker, an American Transcendentalist minister in the 19th century who advocated for the abolition of slavery: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." And I will remind myself that, in 2017, we must persevere.

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