Sometimes, when I’m not well, I feel a great mass of anxiety in my chest.
And I imagine: if I could just punch myself hard enough in the right place, I could break up the mass, and it would dissolve and all the pieces of anxiety would fly away.
But I don’t punch myself or hurt myself in any way, because my thinking isn’t disordered. I know that the body reacts to a hit with a flood of endorphins. And I also know that a few moments of endorphins don’t solve problems.
I begin to understand something about why people cut themselves to escape psychic pain.
Still, I know that a poorly placed punch would cause way more trouble than it would relieve. And I don’t need more trouble when I’m troubled. I don’t need an endless chain of trouble. I choose to believe that troubled times are going to end. I don’t know when or how, but I know things will get better. It’s called “hope.”
And I get a glimpse: this is how Jews in troubled times have thought about mashiach. Things will get better. We can’t really picture how or tell you when. But they will.
In troubled times, if you can catch a sliver of hope in your consciousness, our tradition says you are “hearing the footsteps of the Messiah.”
Finally I understand what the old saying means! As long as you can hear the tiny beat of your own heart, whispering that there still might be a reason to go on, mashiach is walking with you.
Understanding is a kind of endorphin.
My new understanding of this old saying sets me soaring outside the sphere of my own troubles. I’ve learned something about someone else’s heart. Instead of shrinking, I’ve grown.
I asked some family members if they know this experience.
My daughter touched her chest. “It’s like an expansion of my heart, like I suddenly have room for someone besides myself.”
My husband, a psychologist, said, “Empathy. It’s a blending of emotion and cognition. You align your heart with someone else’s heart. You feel their joy and pain. You share emotionally. And you have new cognitions: maybe an understanding of the events that led to their experience. Maybe a plan for what you might do that would be helpful or supportive.”
Expanding. Understanding. Reaching out. Grabbing a corner of something knowable, pulling the rest out of the shadows, and lighting up inside. Catching fragments of how other people think and feel, matching them to fragments of my own, and putting together the big picture.
Wisdom, sophia, footsteps of mashiach.