Friday, 8 March 2013

At a loss with a Prophet....

I love the prophets.  I love the stories… I love the passion… I love the wild beards.   I love the license to speak and say what must be said.   I had lunch with a prophet today.  Well, he looked like a prophet.  He’s older than me.  Jewish.  Wild greying beard… and he has a gruff voice that can make you smile, even as it commands your attention.  The kind of voice meant to echo off of walls or from the bottom of cisterns  (look it up).
We sat in a lovely restaurant beside Lake Ontario, he ate mussels, I drank wine… and we talked.  We talked as old friends do; we said things that should never be blogged and we laughed at things we would never admit to laughing at. I imagine that lunch with Elisha might have been much the same, although an all you can eat salad bar would likely replace the bottomless soup pot  (again, look it up).   Some might see a difference in that my friend does not believe in God.  He comes from a long line of very devout men and women; he learned his lessons well… but as he feels his age; continues to grieve the loss of his wonderful wife and partner almost 16 months ago and watches the insanity of the world on his TV, he has given up. God has let him down or, at least, left him with no purpose.  I was at a loss as to how to respond.
What.. I’m supposed to tell him to get over his grief and enjoy his life?  What kind of pisher do you think me?  (Can’t help it – spend time with the man, you want to speak Yiddish).  Normally, we know what to do with people like this:  Smile at them, speak loudly and slowly... and pretend you can’t hear them as you walk away.  After all, you can’t make them happy, so why try?
My friend misses his wife.  He hurts for the mishegas of the world (warned you…).  He is dispirited by political gamesmanship, blatant dishonesty, stupidity on the part of the public and the never-ending pursuit of more war, more hatred and little effort made to increase  respect or humanity.   He remembers a time when honour and morality were valued and celebrated in society, religious groups didn’t sell out for money and parents valued their children more than themselves.   He longs for a time when people would listen to each other.
Like I said, there’s nothing you can do to make him happy.  So, best to leave him alone:  His loss of joy in life doesn't have to be mine.  You know what I mean... I can't fix him, so best to get my distance in case he brings me down. 
But, remember I also said that he was a prophet.  And as I recall, prophets didn't really want to be cheered up or fixed.  Jeremiah wasn’t hoping that someone would show him that things were actually better than he thought; he wasn't asking to be shown a sunny sky and told that all was right with the world.  He knew that things were a mess and what he wanted was for others to hear him… to listen… and take action to make things better for themselves.  Same as my friend… he’s not asking me to cheer him up, he wants me to listen... he wants me to learn.  So, I'm listening.    Here’s what I heard today: *
I should be very aware that I am in a good place in my life and I should enjoy it and be thankful, not take for granted my supportive, loving wife… my kids… my friends… my health.   Nothing lasts forever and it would be shame to only realize after things have changed, how great they really were.
I should be aware that real faith in God does not come from a book or someone telling you what to believe… it comes from within.  It is nurtured and celebrated in a feeling of purpose. Call it God; don’t call it God… but feel it and act on it.
I should do all that I can to support and highlight those who make the “right” choices, even when the wisdom of the world would have them do something else: Those who give up votes, power or money because there is a higher calling than being rich, powerful or elected. 
I should listen…   That was his very explicit message to me: People should listen.  It is in listening, really listening, that ideas get in and take root… that strangers become friends… the respect is born and hope is possible.  If we don’t listen than we live in our own little worlds… alone and lonely.
The irony is that this Atheist Jew revealed more God to me in our lunch than a semester of studying the prophets in Seminary.  He opened up his life; his heart…and he showed me God’s message inside.  I hope that I remember… not only what he said, but also that he HAS something to say.  The next that I’m tempted to grin and think about about something else as another un-cheerful person wants to talk… I hope that I remember to listen and discover the wisdom that they are offering; I hope that I treat them with the respect that a prophet deserves – even if I don’t know them or love them as much as I do this guy. 
If I can, then maybe… just maybe, I learn;  the world gets better; God’s presence becomes more clear; and I get to be half the mentsh my friend has always been… (look it up, I can’t do everything for you)

If you have a chance... grab lunch with a prophet, you'll be glad that you did.

* I should be honest -  he may have said very different things, and I could be mis-representing him completely…but that's his tsuris!)


  1. My Dear Norman. I have never been so humbled as I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, Not of the sadness I see in this world or at the loss of my world to that damn disease Cancer. I am humbled but a Friend whose wisdom and Mentchkite I admire so much has given Me the respect you have. Maybe this Jewish Atheist today I also listened and learned and maybe the God of my forefathers has not deserted Me but maybe just maybe I deserted God. How can I disbelieve in a power that you so deeply and truly believe in
    My Friend I do not know if you know that I have said to my Family that if I had a belief in God that You Norman would be the person responsible for putting it back there. If my journey lasts long enough who in the name of all that's reasonable can not wonder whether they are right and wrong, Norman I only ask that from your pulpit that you give Me hope for my loved ones future by screaming as I would from the inner being that your congregation must learn to listen. From the mouths of babes wisdom is born and from the addled minds of old Jews can come some lessons of life and death, It is ironic that this atheist still refers to himself with a deep pride that he is a Jew. Lunch with you today was truly a Mitzva and your smile and laughter made Me remember mine, Well in the words of another old Prophet IS THAT WHAT BUGGING YOU BUCKY. I love You Norman and thanks from the bottom of my heart,

  2. I re and reread this! the power it contains is amazing! The understanding of a fellow human being is astounding. Thank you for sharing your insight and a valuable lesson in humility! Joanne Riddle Ohio USA