Yom Shabbat, 10 Tammuz 5778
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Courage is something high up on my wish list these days. I often feel like the world is full of monsters, horrific things both corporeal and ideological. I’ve spent many sleepless nights staring into the maw of my Twitter timeline and New York Times app, asking questions no one around can answer. Did they really just do that? Is that legal for him to say? But what about all of the people who will die? I keep busy with “the work” and try not to fall prey to panic, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that in the dead quiet of night I sometimes peer into the closet of my fears and quietly ask if everyone I care for, or everyone I could care for if given the chance, is really going to make it through this.

The fear can affect my judgment, and sometimes I feel myself preemptively blocking out people I disagree with over minor things, worried that these minor discrepancies mean they’re “in league” with the monsters. Every rope looks like a snake if all your dreams are filled with copperheads. 

The thing about fear is that, if it doesn’t make you fight or fly, it’ll make you freeze. You tighten up and transform yourself into a wall so nothing can get through. As a culture I think we are taught to admire this. We idolize folks who dig in their heels and stand firm against the possibility of changing their mind, the people who “stick to their guns” regardless of what life throws at them. 

Change can feel so shameful, and so many of us hide the experiences of our previous selves. We can be afraid to admit that we have been changed because admitting being something different means admitting that you were at one point someone you currently would disagree with. But change is also honorable, and being a wall is not all it’s cracked up to be. Being rigid can make you fragile. A reed that doesn’t bend will often break. 

Honoring change means valuing both the position you hold now, as well as your experience holding the position you had before. By acknowledging not only the possibility that you can change, but also that YOU HAVE ALREADY changed, you can believe in the possibility that others can change too. Someone having a change of heart doesn’t seem quite so impossible if you can feel a heart that’s been changed pumping away in your chest. 

By having the courage to remember being a human that once believed an idea, you can better understand the humanity of those who still believe that idea now. Some walls are important, and while there are certainly folks to avoid who would do my loved ones and me harm, I choose to believe that the majority of people I interact with are not the monsters I’m so afraid of. They are just ropes, not snakes, and ropes can be helpful. A rope can become a lot of different things in a single lifetime if given the chance.

This season I hope to have the courage to withstand my enemies, not by indiscriminately building up walls, but by keeping the hope of change alive by compassionately remembering what it was like to be in a different place than where I am now.

--Jayme Dale Mallindine, Education Coordinator