Friday, November 27, 2009

In the Beginning...

As my departure date grows nearer, it is natural to become more reflective and to share some thoughts about becoming an Amizade volunteer especially with those of you I have befriended through Bend, Oregon, Daily Photo. Most important to me is to admit that I am not a particularly compassionate person nor do I deserve to be viewed as an exemplary person living on some moral high ground since I am going on this trip. In fact I have lived a particularly selfish existence. I have made some paltry financial contributions to community service organizations and have done some community service, but for the most part, I struggle to find even a modicum of genuine positive feeling toward the poor, the sick, or the oppressed. In my heart I have cared about my survival and that's about it. And I don't feel guilty about it either. I may have presented myself throughout my life as a liberal humanist, but in truth, even though intellectually I espouse an ethically elevated community-minded position, it has been, to some degree, hypocritical. Actually I have felt strangely alienated from like-minded contemporaries and have looked on with suspicion at the alleged purity of their actions, believing that an aura of good will has more to do with creating an identity or job and to perpetuate the illusion of the "caring individual" to spouses or friends.Yet the detritus of this behavior is that actually much kindness is done even if it isn't selfless or altogether heartfelt.

Many years ago when reading Goethe's, Faust, I was struck by the incredibly brilliant scene in the study, where Faust re -translates the opening of the New Testament, the Book of John. "In the beginning there was the Word." He finds the Word imprecise and changes it to first to Mind, then Spirit, and finally settles on Act. The emphasis is placed on what is done and neither the feeling nor the idea of Why is central to creation. In that regard, I am not feeling moved nor have any lofty ideals today about a world community. I just plan to help out. I changed my children's diapers and wiped them up. I can't say I loved it. Only, I was always there for them and they sensed my relentless presence.


  1. How about I'll change your diapers when you are old in return.

  2. Interesting thought on Faust. Sorry but I'm chuckling at the previous comment! ;-)

  3. Well, I think I'm hearing an echo in here! Well said, forthright, and if confession is good for the soul, you ought to feel pretty damn good about now.

    Actually, though, you sound very normal. And less hypocritical for recognizing your motivations for what they are while the rest of us still live with our pretenses!

    Thanks, Rabbi! :-)

  4. Re compassion and all other virtues - I think it's better to do whatever needs to be done without feeling it, than to feel it without doing it.

    A few minutes ago I apologized to an a-hole I treated unfairly almost two years ago. The guy is so habitually insulting he makes it very difficult to apologize to him. Did I feel especially contrite? Not really, but it was still the right thing to do.

  5. Relentless presence--interesting choice of words.
    I think we do things because they are there for the doing and we go on with our lives. Some of us take that one step forward but most of us just are trying to survive within ourselves.

    Go-enjoy-work hard-feel good!! MB

  6. Honest and brave. I expect you're making yourself open to this exceptional experience.