—Rabbi Jonathan Malamy, Director of Meaningful Life

Good Evening New Jewish Home, Manhattan

Today is Thursday May 14.

When I was in training as a spiritual caregiver, I learned a lot about how to be with people going through hard times.  And, indeed, all of us are people going through hard times right now. Yes, some people are experiencing more loss, more pain, more worry. But suffering is not a competition. We all feel the pain we feel. And no one I know or know of is having an easier time than they were beforehand.

As a rabbinical student, I became familiar with the biblical book of ancient liturgical poems, the Psalms. Many people imagine that the psalms are poetic statements of unwavering faith. But that’s not so. Studying chaplaincy, I focused on a group of these poems called the Psalms of Lament. These are the Psalms where the speaker is crying out — voicing pain and anger, doubt and despair. These words can sometimes stand in for ours:

How long, O God? Will You forget me always?
How long will you hide Your face from me? 
How long shall I cast about for counsel, sorrow in my heart all day?
How long will my enemy loom over me?” (Psalm 13: 2-3) 

If you don’t just glance over these words, if you really hear them, you will detect very familiar echoes of what we all say or hear day in and day out these days. How long will this go on? The waiting seems interminable. When can we expect relief? 

For a book that people think is about faith, notice that desperation and disillusionment flutter at the edges of these words.

Like you, I have no clear answer to these questions. And I know that we must persevere. We work to preserve life — and meaning in that life — as we provide care, as clinicians work to improve treatments, as researchers race to develop a vaccine. Yet, it’s so hard to wait.

No one likes to be told to be patient. The only people admonished to be patient, are those who aren’t. And no one likes being lectured at to feel differently than they feel. That’s not how feelings work, anyway. Patience can not be demanded. 

Perhaps, though, as we struggle — patient or not — the blessings of waiting may be explored. And while we wait for an end of the crisis, we can try to notice also what is possible now rather than what is lacking. That idea is explored in this poem, Patience, by former US Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan (b. 1945).

Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.
Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
time’s fullness
the diamonds
of patience
couldn’t be
distinguished
from the genuine
in brilliance
or hardness.

I’m sorry that we all have to wait. It would be better if we didn’t. Still, my prayer is that in our waiting we find hidden gems that teach us about living and living together so that when this part is over, we go on with greater wisdom than before.

“Hard Times Come Again No More” —by Stephen Foster

Performed by Mavis Staples

Performed by Bob Dylan

Performed by Nanci Griffiths