So here we are. January 2021.
On the one hand, it seems like there’s hope with the C-19 vaccination. On the other hand, we’re in lockdown #3 and Covid cases are on the rise. To be optimistic or to be pessimistic, that is the question… We have little (if any) control over what’s happening around us. Health and government authorities are making the decisions, hopefully in our best interest. Time will tell if indeed that’s the case.
Sometimes the reality is so confusing (or depressing…) that you just want to look somewhere else. That’s what I recently did. With travelling options being limited, I concluded that staying at home with some good books and a hot soup was the best deal at this point in time. Being that the atmosphere and mindset is that ‘these are hard times, I chose books about people who dealt with ‘hard times’ and told their story.
It put things into a new perspective.
The first book was “Shirat Miriam” written by Miriam Peretz. We all know about Miriam Peretz who lost two of her sons who were killed during their army service. Her book reveals that there’s a lot more to her story. It encompasses the trials and tribulations that our society has and continues to experience since the establishment of the State of Israel. Prior to making Aliyah from Morocco in the early 1960s she and her family experienced poverty and discrimination. Making aliyah was realizing their dream but far from the end of their hardships. Nevertheless, she describes the difficulties as challenges and harbors no bitterness towards the establishment that ran the young state in almost impossible conditions. She’s consistently on the lookout for the ‘full half of the cup,’ focusing on and being thankful for the little that she and her family had. Miriam describes how despite being ‘dirt poor’ and dealing with the difficulties of acclimating to a new society and lifestyle, her family always found a way to contribute and help others, and never once floundered in their belief and commitment to the Land or the State of Israel. They appreciated that they were part of a big ‘picture,’ the realization of the dream of thousands of years.
The second book is “Fear no Evil” by Natan Sharansky. Most of us are familiar with Natan Sharansky’s story. As a Jewish dissident and activist he was jailed in (the former) USSR for 12 years, in harsh and inhumane conditions. His ‘crime’: being proud of his Jewish identity and aspiring to make aliyah to Israel. His courageous struggle came to symbolize the struggle of Soviet Jewry for their human rights against the oppressive Soviet regime. The story has a ‘happy ending’ since he was eventually freed and joined his wife Avital who had been able to make aliyah 12 years prior to his release from jail. Indeed the ‘happy ending’ is maintained in our collective memory, yet only upon reading the book did I get a full picture of what transpired throughout his years in confinement. Apparently he was mistreated and suffered brutal physical and mental abuse throughout that time. Yet amazingly, his spirit remained strong and steadfast. Instead of being depressed and forlorn, he managed to maintain a sense of humor and a relatively high morale considering his circumstances. He credits this accomplishment to one basic principle that he adhered to even during the most painful days – that his captors had control over the physical aspects of his existence, but they could not confine his soul, and despite being imprisoned, he was free to feel and think as he wished, because that’s what true freedom is about. That’s what enabled his sense of humor and faith to persevere throughout his incarceration. The uncertainty and suffering could have easily led to despair, but instead he saw humor and hope even in the most despondent situations.
These two books put January 2021 in a whole new light:
- True, there’s a lot to complain about. However, taking my cue from Miriam Peretz, I’d rather look for what to be thankful for and see where I can contribute to others.
- Even when we are confined in lockdown or quarantine, there are various ways to perceive the situation. Here I take my cue from Natan Sharansky. No one can lockdown my spirit. I can choose if I laugh or cry. That’s freedom!
What I’ve absorbed from these two books is relevant not only to lockdown. I’ve learned that basically we can choose how we perceive and how we react to any situation. This insight can affect every aspect in our lives, especially our relationships. We can choose to focus on the positive in our children and our spouses, and by doing so we enhance the good. And we can free ourselves of preconceived notions regarding our relationships which keep us ‘locked’ and often quite miserable.
I believe that these insights are particularly important in light of the expectations regarding the short and long term effects that the Covid crisis will have on our lives. We’re being incessantly bombarded with dire predictions… Children will not receive a proper education, some may even remain illiterate to a certain degree… The strain of lockdown and its effects will cause an upsurge in divorce… Emotional stability will be impaired and ultimately lead to an unprecedented rise in mental illnesses… And the list goes on, in the vein of ‘if anything can go wrong, it will’.
But we don’t have to buy it. We can expect more. These books taught me that even in challenging times, replete with tension and uncertainty we can choose if the situation controls us or if we control the situation. The key is in our hands. Just knowing that is freedom!