In my last years of teaching at the university, I created a new course called The Literature of Wisdom—A Cross-Cultural Exploration, which I then taught 12 times to some 300 students. The first unit was Proverbial Wisdom. In it we studied maxims and saws from a diversity of countries, East and West, North and South. We were also required to create a proverb of our own. I say “we” because I considered all of us, myself included, as both teachers and students. So, I had to do all the work the official students did, even as they shared their wisdom with the rest of us. One of my proverbs went, “You can’t outrun the Devil, only outwait him.”
In considering our best response in this year of Covid-19, that proverb came back to me. The one thing needed right now is patience, what the German’s call Sitzfleisch, the ability to just sit there and wait. As a graduate student in English, I was taught to take words seriously, to wrestle with them like gods for their meaning. In the context of our current situation, the Old Testament phrase came to me, “And the Lord God visited a pestilence upon his people…” Visited is key here. Visits are always temporary, although some can be on the long side. Here the Germans have another wonderful term, Dauerbesuch, a visit that goes on and on. Still, even that kind of visit will one day pass over, a religious term from my ancestral faith, Judaism.
So, my wisdom for this week, visited on to me by my Biggest and Best (B & B) Self, is—Don’t just do something; stand there. Wait. For this too shall pass. And while we’re talking about words, how about the agent, the subject of that Biblical-style sentence--The Lord God? I mean, why does a supposedly good deity visit bad things on, uh, His People? No easy answers here. (For an in-depth response, see Rabbi Kushner’s classic, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.) But I’m minded now of the Levitical advice God gives Moses and Aaron several times: “I have placed before you Life and Death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose Life….” We can choose life, that is, the Great Life, la-chaim, as we Jews say. Another of my home-made proverbs is “Attitude is destiny.” Therefore, my friends, in this new year of the plague, please join me in choosing Life so that whatever happens in the black-and-white of our daily existence, we will be part of the technicolor flow of the Universe. As Spock would say, “Live long and prosper!” Amen.