Psalm 29, verse 11, has always been special to me. “Adonai oz l’amo yiten, Adonai yivarech et amo b’shalom- Adonai will give strength to the people, Adonai will bless the people with peace.” As a Soldier, this verse appealed to me in terms of national security strategy. I understood that peace must be founded on a basis of strength. Unfortunately, the perception of weakness can be an invitation to bad actors to take advantage of our lack of readiness to defend ourselves. So, peace, yes, but not pacifism. Peace based on strength.
Then I attended Shacharit services not as the rabbi, but as a wounded warrior, standing with the congregation to mourn the loss of my beloved husband. The words of this psalm took on a very personal meaning. Suddenly, I moved from hearing the psalmist address the nation, to hearing the psalmist provide a way forward to me, a comforting assurance that the Holy One would provide me with strength to endure the profound sadness- strength from faith, strength from the support of family and community, strength from the experience of watching so many others find ways to choose life in the face of darkness. A whole lot of strength is needed when a loved one is suddenly gone.
Adonai will give strength to the people, Adonai will bless the people with peace. I am praying for strength for myself and for all those who suffer. And I am praying that if we can find that strength within ourselves, that it will lead us to a sense of peace.
I reflect on this moving quote from Marilynne Robinson’s profound novel, Gilead (p. 137) “That’s her courage, her pride, and I know you will be respectful of it, and remember at the same time that a very, very great gentleness is called for, a great kindness. Because no one ever has that sort of courage who hasn’t needed it.” I am so touched by the author’s words. We don’t innately have courage. We find it when we need it. If we have courage, it is because we had no choice but to find a way to persevere.
Someone said to me that I must want to get back to normal. I replied that there is no getting back to normal, there is only moving forward into a new normal. Moving forward slowly, cautiously, consciously, and with courage. I love what Marilynne Robinson wrote, that when we see people with this kind of courage, we must tread very, very lightly, understanding the depth of the pain that leads to the height of strength and courage. And, yes, a great gentleness is called for, a great kindness.
Don’t we all suffer? Don’t we all experience pain and loss? Shouldn’t we treat everyone we meet with great gentleness, with great kindness? I’ll conclude with words most often attributed to Philo of Alexandria, but really of an unknown source, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” May we be blessed with strength and peace.