How Long Is ‘Eventually’?

Franz Kafka wrote in his Diaries, that there are two basic human behaviors from which all other transgressions derive: impatience and laziness. But since laziness comes directly from impatience, Kafka concludes there is only one cardinal human sin: impatience.

The opening verse to Exodus 32, the story of the Golden Calf, echoes Kafka’s insight: “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain….” This frames the narrative of the people turning to Aaron who helps them create an idol using all the jewelry they brought from Egypt. The greatest act of religious rebellion, following the Exodus and Sinai, the now freed slaves commit the worst possible sin, the worship of an idol. Kafka would argue that their idolatry is anchored in their impatience which is really the worst sin.

We have just observed the first-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, with millions dead and many more millions still infected battling the illness. There are now vaccines but delays in the production and process of actual inoculation has increased the frustration, anger, and dark exhaustion everywhere.

There is a consensus that pandemic fatigue continues to spark impatience which then provokes impulsive decisions, anger and worst of all, the refusal to consider communal consequences. Everyone is done using the glossary of public health: flattening the curve; quarantines and lockdowns; essential workers; hybrid learning and of course, Zooming!

Some have tentatively tried to use the word, eventually, to calm the frustration and offer a positive bridge toward the future. ‘Eventually’ is a word we use without consideration of its totally indefinite value. ‘Eventually’, means, at the end of a long time/delay and only after a lot of effort and problems, will our sense of the future will be more secure.

The opening verse of Exodus 32 does not describe the experience of the people, merely that Moses would eventually come down from the mountain. The building of the Golden Calf was unequivocally a communal rejection of all that God had provided and offered these people, but maybe we need to think about what they experienced when they realized that Moses would return eventually.

After a very long traumatic year of an unknown virus literally turning all normal life, upside down; how long will most people accept being told that eventually things we be better. Elected officials everywhere argue about the cost of ‘eventually,’ some deciding that it is the time to re-open as if the virus is no longer a dangerous risk. Months of anger and frustration about a fractured future seems to have blinded many into self-destructive denial.

Kafka understood the profound fragility of being human, that waiting for an uncertainty breeds anxiety which is intensified by fear and anger.
Impatience is the source of humanity’s darkest behaviors, because looking toward the horizon without hope is dreadful, a truth we are still struggling to manage.

A recent blog by a consultant in ‘Conflict Resolution’ argues that,
“In these difficult circumstances, it is, of course, helpful to be willing to listen, to speak our truth, and to problem-solve at work and with family, but it is challenging not to be impatient with others about that process as well!” Here are five immediate behaviors that provide an antidote to the destructive experience of impatience:

1. Breathe in and out a few times first before responding or acting. (Note: heavy passive aggressive sighing doesn’t count).

2. Give yourself and others a break. Remember we are all under stress and may not be as calm or articulate as usual.

3. Don’t expect as much. Anxiety is draining. Looking for food or supplies is draining. Feeling at risk when you have to leave the house is draining. Staying in the house with kids, spouse, or alone are all draining. Naps are good, if possible.

4. Reframe. Even after a meltdown. Your day and communication style can restart at any moment.

5. Forgive yourself and others. Be gentle. Remember love. Remember we are all doing the best we can in a frightening crisis. Remember this too shall pass.
(Lorraine Segal, https://www.mediate.com/articles/segal-conflict-covid19.cfm)
We will never be able to imagine the experience described in Exodus 32:1. This was a community of slaves that had suddenly experienced freedom and then the Divine revelation at Mt. Sinai, but now could not understand when their leader would return. One year ago, we could not have imagined what this pandemic would do to our sense of the future, our resilience, or our willingness to let the future emerge while always resisting the demons of impatience. As we study this text, be acutely aware that the communities in which we live, are struggling with how long it will take to imagine our ‘eventually’. Sharing the dark burden of this challenge is our best hope against building an idol much more dangerous than a Golden Calf.

About the Author
Joseph has linked his congregational rabbinate and academic careers with interfaith relations, contemporary philosophy, and serving Jews who are sometimes ignored. He is retired in Rio de Janeiro where he teaches, writes and volunteers his rabbinic time in communities without rabbis. He has written "What Am I Missing? Questions About Being Human"
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