Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So, it may be asked what value is there to human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye . . . I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. That I think you do not understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worth of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here. Do you understand what I am saying?
“why do you cry, Father?” he asked me once under the tallis. “Because people are suffering,” I told him. He could not understand. Ah, what it is to be a mind without a soul, what ugliness it is . . . .”why have you stopped answering my questions, Father?” he asked me once. “You are old enough to look into your own soul for answers,” I told him. He laughed once and said, “That man is such an ignoramus, Father.” I was angry. “Look into his soul,” I said. “Stand inside his soul and see the world through his eyes. You will know the pain he feels because of his ignorance, and you will not laugh.” He was bewildered and hurt. The nightmares he began to have. . . .But, he learned to find answers for himself. He suffered and learned to listen to the suffering of others. In the silence between us, he began to hear the world crying.
Both of the above quotes are from the novel, “The Chosen,” by Chaim Potok. I just reread it over the past couple of days. It possibly my favorite novels. I first read it as an assignment for my Judaic Religious Traditions class as an undergrad. In that same class, I read “Night” by Elie Wiesel. “Night” is quite possibly the most important book written in the 20th century. If you haven’t read it, you must. It is a memoir written by a holocaust survivor.
In discussing “Night,” my professor talked about when he learned of the holocaust. He described it as one of those overwhelming things where you feel that you have to do something, but have no idea what you could possibly do. At the very least, he decided, he would make it his mission to make sure people were aware. And, assigning us the book “Night” was one way of doing so.
When I was working for a law firm in Cincinnati, one of the attorneys I worked for was on the board of the local chapter of the Red Cross. And, on the door of his office, he once had a postcard. On it, it listed, starting with the Holocaust, each genocide that has occurred since then. It also said, “never again.”
That was the promise that was made after the Holocaust. We would never let something like that happen again. But, we have. Granted, never to the tune of 6 million people. But, clearly we have yet to learn from our mistakes.
I bring this up because, today, with the above quotes swirling through my head, I went to a restraunt that had some “Save Darfur” information on the counter. Darfur used to be a pet project of mine, for a short time anyway. Somewhere along the way, I quit caring for some reason.
I suppose there are many reasons. One is the same as my professor: what can I do, anyway. One is that over the 3+ years I have been aware of the issue, nothing has happened. Supposedly, the first time Pres. Bush was briefed on this issue, in the margin of his notes he wrote, “Not on my watch.” Years later, it has all happened on his watch. And my watch, and yours.
What bothers me the most is that we don’t care. None of us. Sure, there is a part of us that doesn’t like that it is happening. We all wish it would stop. But we don’t care. People are suffering, but we don’t weep. We all have minds without souls.
I still don’t know what to do. I won’t, until I begin to weep.