I’ve been in Tel Aviv almost three weeks now. It is a world city with all a world city has. It is also smaller than other world cities. In a little over an hour, you could walk through the entire length of the city—from the Arab neighborhoods in Jaffa, through street art-filled Florentin, up-scale Neve Tsedek, along Allenby with its growing homeless population, down trendy Shenkin and arrive amongst the comfortable tree-filled streets of the Old North. Rich, poor, young, old, religious and not…it’s all here.
I can walk for hours. Alone. And not feel alone, in the existential sense. Whatever sorrows or joys I am carrying, I see others carrying sorrows and joys. I see the old lady at the art store, struggling to use her arthritic fingers to get change out of her wallet. I see a mother of four, pushing a stroller, holding her pregnant belly, obviously tired, and moving slowly. I see couples holding hands. And friends gossiping. In French. And English. And Russian.
Seeing so much gives me perspective. It reminds me that life is filled with terrors and transcendances and violent contradictions. Such is the nature of life, says Maria Popova.
Seeing so much reminds me that the toxic positivity so pervasive in our culture is a big fake lie! That perpetual positivity is unobtainable. The goal is not to be impermeable to pain. But rather to see all these moments in our lives as moments, part of a whole life—rich with adventure, joy, and yes sorrow. Which, reminds me of the final stanza of the Robert Haas poem, “Faint Music”:
It’s not the story though, not the friend
leaning toward you, saying “And then I realized—“,
which is the part of stories one never quite believes.
I had the idea that the world’s so full of pain
it must sometimes make a kind of singing.
And that the sequence helps, as much as order helps—
First an ego, and then pain, and then the singing.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the and then I realized stories and all the books telling us how to get over the difficult parts of life. I don’t think there is any getting over anything; rather there is a getting through. With heart open and eyes open. And hands open, so that we may hold the hands of another—to lean on at times and offer support at times.
And then the singing…