Among the many less-than-noble tics I picked up during what is beginning to look like a pandemic with no end-point (thank you, anti-vaxxers, red-state governors, and assorted temper-tantrum-throwing flat-earthers!) is watching cute animal videos.
It’s bad enough that I go on Facebook at least several times a day, quite on purpose I might add, in order to distract myself. My Facebook habit is shocking, embarrassing, a shonda. Whose kid got in or, better yet, did not get into his or her college of his or her choice? Who, in late middle age, is looking rather meh—and wasn’t this the same girl all the boys had a crush on in high school? And okay, the weddings, the photos of young happy in-love and just-engaged couples, looking all wet and rapturous. These too, as well as the news bulletins, the brag-a-thons, the endless photos of self-and-spouse on wedding day paired with self-and-spouse now, thirty or forty years later, and aren’t we just grand?
And if I sound a little snide it’s because I am, and that’s because I should be better than this. Better than this Facebook-scrolling internet-stalking petty-minded teenager in the body of a woman whose nest emptied of its youngest little chickadee more than a decade ago.
But perhaps I’m really not such a poor excuse for an adult, as these days I barely notice the look-at-me posts and go straight to the one of the dog who befriends the baby lion. Or the nearly-dead elephant who, taken to an elephant refuge, is brought back to life, laughter, and love by the devotion of a goat. Or the video about the devoted dog who jumps into his dead owner’s hearse as said hearse is taking his dead owner to his forever home. The cat who raised the rescue dog. The rescue dog who raised the baby cow. The cow who moos in French, German and Hebrew while her humans’ rescue dogs howl in appreciative song.
Talk about cheap sentiment. Despite the pleasure I derive from these dumb, meaningless and (I’m guessing) somewhat if not largely fictional filmed accounts of non-sapiens rescued and raised by sapiens and then doing the darnedest things, they piss me off not for what they are, but for the great gulping gaping ragged and ugly hole they paper over. Namely: that our species, despite its frequent leaps of love for the four-legged around us, starve, strangle, shame, murder, despise, and displace our own with abandon. How the sticky sweet goo of animal entertainment lets us obscure our sense of how miserably we human beings are doing. How we get an F-minus in humanity, a D plus in humanism, and a resounding full-failure on keeping our bargain with God. Or at least with the God I was raised with, as per the Hebrew Bible and, from there, what’s generally referred to as the “the Judaic tradition,” and—expanding ever-outward into most of the Western world, “the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Of course, the “Judeo Christian tradition” has dropped the baton before, more times than can be counted, from as far back as recorded history all the way up to…let me think about this…now. Want to read something that will bum you out so badly that you won’t even be able to find your own bum? No, it’s not the latest account of the Holocaust, the Killing Fields, Stalin’s endless atrocities, or even today’s headlines. It’s Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Prophets. Heschel’s point? That the Hebrew Prophets, those who railed against human pretense and pomposity to urge justice, meant it – literally. They saw through the ragged and self-serving dreck that most people espouse, right down to our naked and self-justifying souls, and said: sorry, no, no dice, go back to the drawing board, and this time do it better. Do it better because no other than the Divine Essence is watching, recording, seeing. You only get one warning, and this is it: do better or you’re off the team.
Those pesky prophets saw straight through the bluster and the b.s., the shtick and the spiel, and they weren’t having it.
And now, with Yom Kippur upon us, we ordinary Jews aren’t (thank Ha Shem) tasked with taking on the prophetic mantle, but we are at least supposed to own up.
Speaking for myself only, the so-called High Holidays are not my favorites. I prefer, for example, Hanukkah – presents, candles, donuts. Or Sukkot, with its merry version of rustic dining. Even Passover, with its endless cooking and cleaning, is better than Rosh Hashana and its dark twin, Yom Kippur, for the following reasons: there’s lots of food, and you don’t have to go to synagogue to think about what a total jerk you tend to be. Who haven’t you let down this year? What vows haven’t you broken?
Yet here we are, once again in the season of returning, renewal, and repentance. Or such is their design. And such is my horror—during those rare moments when I can bear to see what’s right in front of me, all around me, and dwelling in my own heart that more often than not I soothe my jagged conscience in images of orphaned baby elephants hugging their human caretakers, a glimpse of Eden on the far side of the world.