The night before the election, I sat around the dinner table at the home of dear friends and their kids. Over big bowls of chili, I joined their nightly ritual. Each of us took turns sharing a “good” and “bad” of that day. While these highlights and lowlights sometimes varied, all gave voice to values, how they were expressed or not.
The night after the election, and the many nights that follow, we may wonder as parents, clergy, and educators how to talk with our kids. Candidates win or lose but the values we decide to be aware of, cultivate, and act upon, remain. Candidates don’t necessarily show up at the dinner table, at the bus stop, or in the classroom. But values do. Values show up every time we choose to practice kindness. Whether elections go our way or not, we never lose our agency to give rise to what’s important, to name and live it.
What if we start by naming a highlight or lowlight each day – a taking stock that recognizes our human agency to be aware – and even write down, paint, or draw – the complexity we notice at different ages. Every week as we light candles for Shabbat we might “let go” of the low that has piled high from the last week. When we say goodbye to Shabbat at havdalah, we might pick it up again by choosing how we hold it differently or transform it. To volunteer time and speak out for justice, to listen compassionately and confront hate, to check our own egos and the ways we enable those we know to fill space with unchecked arrogance. So “bad” and “good” are not oversimplified ways of seeing the world; we navigate nuance, take control of what we can, and find a way forward.
The wisdom of Torah gives us a blueprint. Genesis teaches us the power of naming. Each day, amidst the chaos of creating the world, God acknowledges what is good, and eventually, what is not. God notices, “It is not good for a person to be alone,” and finally the power of naming is turned over to Adam, to humanity, to us. In this week’s portion we meet Avram and Sarai whose departure from familiar territory reminds us we too have to go forth – first into ourselves to know the rawness inside – and then into the world as it is recreated after the election.
How can we possibly absorb one more story, one more image that pulls at the heart, breaking it open, only to feel numbed by the regularity of rage? We are bombarded, so we need less. We are searching, so we need more. When we recognize our agency, our power to name and live out our values, we allow empathy to rise. When we find ourselves or our kids distraught in tears or rolling in laughter, these are signs we care, deeply, and are affected by one another. Let us use tears of joy and sadness to wet the paintbrush. We will leave no one alone. We will notice. We will listen and speak and confront. Even over bowls of chili, we will write and paint and draw a new world into being. And then we will go forth together.