Richard S. Moline
Richard S. Moline

Plague and memory

May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

The Way We Were – – Songwriters: Alan Bergman / Marilyn Bergman /  Marvin Hamlisch; Lyrics © Arlovol Music, Colgems-emi Music Inc

We often think the act of remembering is passive since there is nothing physically active involved. The memories we conjure up stay in our heads. We may choose to speak or write of them, but that’s not necessary in order to remember.

There are times in our tradition when we’re exhorted to remember. “Remember the Sabbath day.” “Remember you were slaves in Egypt.” “Remember the Exodus.” “Remember the works of creation.” These are commandments, not requests; there is nothing passive about them.

Memory doesn’t serve much of a purpose if it doesn’t lead to behavior. Remembering kind relatives should make us be kind. Remembering unpleasant experiences should make avoid them in the future. Remembering that we were slaves should remind us that we did not became free to become like our taskmasters. We became free in order not to be like them.

As we mark the one-year anniversary of the impositions forced upon us by this unforgiving plague, I’ve been thinking a lot about memory. What will we remember from this year, and how will those memories lead to the way we will change, both individually and as a society?

While there have been positive developments recently, we still have miles to go before life returns to pre-pandemic status. How will our memories from these past twelve months serve us moving forward?

Here are some of my takeaways:

  • Be more empathic. We’ve been Zooming into peoples’ homes – their living rooms, kitchens, even bedrooms. We’re getting a glimpse of co-workers lives that we don’t get at the office. Everyday interactions have become far more personal and intimate. People have all sorts of things going on in their lives, and when we only focus on the task at hand and fail to see the gestalt, we become incapable of empathy.
  • The perfunctory “how are you?” doesn’t cut it anymore. The pandemic has put health in the spotlight, so when I ask the question, I really need to mean it and listen carefully to the answer. This apples to both physical and mental health.
  • Good deeds go a long way. Due to some family health issues, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of some incredible kindnesses. They mean a lot.
  • Get to know people differently. I’ve been to far too many funerals this year – funerals I might not normally attend due to distance or scheduling. I’ve come away wishing I’d known more about the deceased and their family while they were living instead of learning about them through eulogies.
  • Make an extra effort to make a shiva visit. As awkward as it is, the Zoom shiva is here to stay in some form. The ability to visit with people across the country or across the globe has been meaningful to both the mourner and the comforter. Being physically present is even more powerful.
  • Don’t forsake community. The ability to begin each morning with my community at minyan has not only helped ritualize my day, it has also provided important social connections and mutual support.
  • Be deliberate in judgement (good advice from Pirkei Avot 1:1). There is a lot of misinformation circulating and science has been highly politicized. Before going off the rails, try to gather facts from trusted sources.
  • Cut some slack and make no assumptions. Times have been tough, and will remain so, even as we begin to see light. Many have not been on their “A” game and may need some time to readjust. Patience and understanding need to mitigate irritation.
  • Talk about it. Finding the right person/group of people to discuss your hopes, fears and frustrations may not only relieve some tension, but it may also help us to recalibrate.
  • Take care of yourself. Otherwise, you won’t be able to do any of the above.

As these days begin to transform from moment to memory, lessons learned from COVID can serve as enduring reminders of those who died and inspiration to those of us emerging from the darkness.

About the Author
Rich Moline is a Jewish educator, non-profit executive, and volunteer leader living in Chicago.
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