Marching.

It’s cold. There’s a winter storm on the way. Must be time for the annual Confirmation Class pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. (Seriously, why can’t we do this when the cherry blossoms are in bloom in the spring? Just once. Please?)

With a more-than-full weekend ahead of us, the students take advantage of downtime on Friday afternoon to tackle missed schoolwork, and I use the opportunity to FaceTime with home.

“Do you want to see D.C.?” I ask the boy, who’s never been, and use my iPad to scan the view out our 18th floor window. It’s pretty outside. The sun is shining, the trees are bare, and there are buildings as far as the eye can see. But as I consider the view through his eyes, I realize nothing he can see looks especially like D.C. – no White House, no Capitol Building, no Washington Monument – and I apologize.

“That’s O.K.,” he says. “Can you see the marching?”

“The marching?” I ask.

“Yeah, the marching – you know, like we learned about at school. With Dr. King.”

“Oh, the marching.” I smile. “That was over 50 years ago,” I tell him, but gently because I love the idea that for him history is alive and real.

Yet now that our weekend is nearing its conclusion, I realize that his question was more relevant than I allowed. Our students – and 300 of their peers from synagogues around the country – have been immersed in issues of social justice… ending violence against women, disability rights, gun violence prevention, economic justice, climate change. The Religious Action Center has helped them learn how proposed legislation could play a significant role in bringing about meaningful improvements with respect to these issues and more. They’ve been empowered with tools and texts with which to raise their voices and advance the causes they care about most.

They’ve been given a glimpse of how far our country is from where we could, where we should be – and they’re impassioned to play a part in helping us get there.

Tonight they sit together in pairs and small groups all over the conference space of our hotel; papers spread out, laptops open. They’re reading and writing; discussing and debating; honing their skills of persuasion. After a quick night’s sleep, they’ll trade their sweats for business clothing, and carry their thoughts in hand, coalesced into a speech. They’ll march up Capitol Hill, like groups of Confirmation students who have marched before them (always, have I mentioned, in the cold). Like generations of concerned citizens who gave voice to the voiceless before them. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the men and women of all races and religions who answered his call.

“Can you see the marching?” the boy had asked. I sure can. And it’s leading us toward a better future for all.

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Correspondence.

Tonight was one of my favorite classes of the year in Confirmation.

After comparing and contrasting the names and metaphors used to address God in a variety of ancient and modern prayers, we create a list of possibilities of our own – brainstorming job titles, relationships, tangible concepts… Then, using something we’ve written on one of the whiteboards around the room, or something else that pops into our imaginations as a result, we each write a letter (i.e. a prayer) to God with new language.

The students’ creations were amazing! They wrote, “Dear Mentor/Ancestor/Brain/Sun/Partner/Pen-Pal.” I wish I could share them – they were incredible. But I said I wouldn’t. *Sigh* Well, here’s mine:

Dear Little League Coach,

I don’t envy Your job – trying to balance the need (and desire) to get everyone in the game, to not play favorites, to teach – when every fiber of Your being must want to pick up the bat, the ball, the glove and just do it Yourself.

I can see the pride You feel when the kid who never gets a hit, nevertheless tries so hard… and the joy when he makes it to first. Which pleases You more, I wonder: that singular feat, or the consistency of the all-star who always comes through?

The mantra of Little League is it’s all about team and learning. Is that true of us, too? Are we getting it? If we do, does everyone get a slice of pizza and a trophy? Maybe if they knew that…

Coach, I know I’m easily distracted – the ball scoots into the outfield and I’m captivated by the dandelion floating by on the breeze; the pattern my shoe makes in the dirt. Just remember, You created that dandelion and the dirt. I’m trying to remember it, too.

Doing my best; thanks for the guidance —

Me

Such a great and freeing exercise… Try it!

Nechemta.

A couple of nights ago, we watched The Fault in Our Stars. I knew exactly what to expect. I had read and loved the book (it earned an unprecedented 3 asterisks in my 2 asterisk rating system). Yet though expected, I was still powerless to stop the tears from streaming down my face. Even after the movie ended, they kept coming. (And my face wasn’t the only one that was red and puffy.)

What we needed was a nechemta – the Jewish custom of adding a note of consolation at the conclusion of a particularly difficult textual passage (as in a harsh reading from the Prophets) or time of year (as in the weeks following Tisha b’Av, commemorating the destruction of the ancient Temples). It’s too much of a burden to leave things in such a raw place, tradition teaches, so we try and end on a more upbeat note.

That night, the nechemta for us came through the oracle of YouTube (just as the Sages had in mind, I’m sure)… some competitive lip synching by Jimmy Fallon, Brian Williams rapping, a little Jon Stewart (this bit with Jason Bateman gets me every time). But some nechemta that was – all that laughing just led to more crying!

The boy and I recently read a chapter book where one of the characters, an older dog, dies a peaceful death after a long life. I stopped to check on how he was taking it, and he said he felt like he wanted to cry. His stiff upper lip also suggested he didn’t want to let it happen. So we kept reading – snuggled a bit more tightly – and the book ended with a note of consolation: The owner of that dog adopted another one who desperately needed a home. When I closed the book, he said that he again felt like crying. “Happy tears?” I asked. “Yes,” he answered, “but I don’t think I’m done with the other ones yet.”

This, I think, is the gift of the nechemta: It doesn’t erase the pain, the sadness, the hurt of what came before – it can’t. Rather it helps to get more of it out. And that can bring a measure of consolation.