I am in New York City, again, where my mother lives.
Someone makes a joke about retirement. “Life begins after the kids leave home and the dog dies.”
But I do not laugh.
The joker could not possibly know: two weeks ago my mom’s beloved dog died and yesterday my mom had had a heart attack.
I worried her life might be ending when the dog died.
I could not laugh.
Why a heart attack now? Is the stress of grief too much? Did her heart wait to fail until her elderly dog Billy no longer needed her care? Or did her body simply follow the rhythm of its internal processes?
Across from me on the subway a woman holds a Jehovah’s Witnesses pamphlet. The headline reads, “Does God really care about us?” The picture shows two parents and a little girl, all looking worried.
Does God care? What form does the care take? Is God a being who has a good plan for our lives, and watches as we grow our way into it? A being who leaves us free to plan but intervenes when our choices go awry? A being who waits quietly until our needy hearts and minds reach out to expand?
Which being is available to our family, two adult children and their mother, all looking worried?
My day was filled with significant chance meetings.
There was a persistent Israeli man, an uncertain Christian woman who loves her daughter deeply, a bored pre-teen girl with great flip flop sandals, and an unnerved baristo at Starbucks. At each meeting I responded, and each time my response made a difference. The man was disappointed, the woman comforted, the girl delighted, the baristo calmed.
I thought the meetings must hold some answers. But I don’t know how to decode them.
Perhaps I am holding human interaction too precious after my mother’s brush with death.
Perhaps I am just over-stimulated by this gregarious, populous city.
And yet, all these chance meetings seem connected in a web of meaning, at least in the web of meaning I make in my life as wife, rabbi, mother, consumer.
Are they connected in any other way, in someone else’s web of meaning, in some Great Plan, perhaps?
R Akiva says: All is foreseen and yet free will is given.
A simple analogy to my own experience makes this aphorism clear. I can almost always predict how my family, friends and coworkers will respond to a given situation. But I do not control their reactions. I simply care enough to pay close attention, and to know their mind and heart.’
Does the analogy back to God work?
Could we say, there is no Great Plan, but there is a Compassionate Heart that knows us?
We could – but should we?
Which image of God’s action helps you as you find your way through your life’s web?
Which helps me?
Am I comforted by the idea of a Great Plan, or am I terrified by the limitations it might impose, or the twists and turns it might force me to take?
Could I relax in the presence of a Compassionate Heart who knows me deeply – or does this idea arouse my suspicious defenses?
How do I choose my answers to the metaphysical questions that explode in me when I am most sensitive?
If I have to choose at this precarious moment, I choose the Compassionate Heart.
I choose based on what I know and what I feel.
Some traditional Jewish teachings speak of meeting God through love (ahavah) or fear (yirah).
I have been called to this reflection through fear; I want love to call back.
***Note to friends: this was written two weeks ago. Good news update: Mom will be discharged soon!