I got back from a leadership institute today and as usual, I’d over-packed–three too many t-shirts, a bathing suit I never used, and a few extra pairs of shorts. I learned on my trip to Belize the importance of rolling, not folding, clothes to preserve suitcase space, so the unpacking process now includes refolding my laundry. I picked up a pair of shorts I hadn’t worn, and all the week’s lessons converged on a few threads of white cotton crisscrossed in a barbed wire pattern.
Integrity, intent, and fashion sense. That’s leadership.
This is not a post about leadership–but leadership is merely an incarnation of the lessons we learned. A recurring thing was the saying “Own your stuff,” and I feel some ownership is at last in order.
This weekend was none other than the 25th annual North Carolina Pride. Actually, the event has been going on all week, but it culminated with the Pride Parade on Saturday. I had the opportunity to go once before, and it was a lot of fun and so sunny all my pictures were washed out from the intense sunlight.
Yesterday it rained.
But in this rain, the festivities went on with a crowd as strong as could be, and after the parade I ended up in a lengthy conversation with a visiting Christian who was shouting to all of us that we were sinners and would all go to hell. I hadn’t realized how significant that encounter had been until I reread today’s teaching.
When last we spoke of the Rabbis, our lesson dealt with studying while strolling and we were able to apply the lesson in three wildly different applications–to teach us to focus, to teach us to rest, and to teach us that distracted walking is a real danger in the modern world. This teaching also focuses on studying, but its implications can be far greater–and far more severe.
I had high hopes for Pesach–in fact, I had planned in my head an amazing series of posts in emulation of my week in December covering Chanukah: I had planned to speak about the Seder on Friday evening, about being a slave on Saturday, share a Pesach story on Sunday, talk about freedom on Monday, reminisce about traditional Pesach songs on Tuesday, delve into my personal history of the holiday upon Wednesday, and give thanks today.
As you can see, school has once more kept me away.
It’s not that I haven’t wanted, it’s that I haven’t slept. For nearly the past week, I have run so wild that I have missed deadlines, missed meetings, and missed entire homework assignments by convincing myself I will only sleep for a few minutes before getting out of bed to finish my work and then instead sleeping the entire night. It hasn’t been hell–I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve done, I’ve had plenty of excitement, and I love life in general–but it hasn’t been the happiest time of life. I’ve been critical upon myself, hating myself for my own failures, but unable to figure out how to best pull myself to succeed, how to hold onto everything without letting it all fall.
There’s a controversial Christmas song that I just love: Lady Gaga’s Christmas Tree. Full of rabid innuendo and a pop/rock beat, I just can’t get enough of it. It’s also a stark contrast to the radio hits they must forget as soon as the songs roll over (for why else would they play them three and four times an hour, when such amazing new music has been crafted, such as Enya’s “And Winter Came…” or the Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs?), and as a vehement oppositionist of Christmas (remember last year?), I appreciate the change in tunes.
In any case, it’s pretty obvious what I must be thankful for today, isn’t it? Grudgingly or not, today I’m thankful for giving.
Long ago we were introduced to Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai and his five disciples. Since then we have learned from each of these Rabbis countless things–we’ve learned about community, about perception about prayers and obligations, about goodness and evil. Today, our lessons from these wise men come to an end as we study their final lesson to all us.
It seems like every post in this second book of the Pirkei Avot has begun with an introduction. Sometimes I don’t see a point in it, but so quickly it has become a trend, simply for my own amusement, I’m going to see how long I can keep it going. It also adds a layer of uniformity to all these posts (which contrasts the pattern of the first book, in which all the posts began with the teaching itself), and that isn’t a bad thing, is it?
Today’s introduction is going to be sweet, simple, and straightforward, because today’s–or yesterday’s–teaching is actually one I’m happily eager to write about–at long last, it would seem. Of course, specifying “yesterday’s” is the perfect segue to this sweet, simple, and straightforward introduction, which is simply this:
I got stuck going to the laundromat last night, so I didn’t have the time at home to write this then.
1.2 Shimon Ha-Tzaddik was one of the last members of the Great Assembly. This was a favorite teaching of his:
The world rests on three things—
on Torah, on service of God, on deeds of love.
Week number two, and I’ve made it. It feels good. So far, this commitment is keeping to its goals (or rather, I’m keeping to mine). I know last week’s came a day late (and depending on time zones, this one might appear a day late as well), but in my defense that was only because of a problem with my internet not loading on Saturday, not that I didn’t do my studying then.
What’s more is that keeping this commitment is itself a fulfillment of these three pillars. (I use “pillars” in a neoclassical sense, in imagining the world held aloft on three pillars akin to Atlas and the globe; perhaps such a visage is scientifically inaccurate, but it’s metaphorically useful in such regard, as should one pillar fall, the standing of the other two becomes inept and the world falls no matter how strong they might be. It’s a balance, no doubt, which likely I’ll get at later.)