What keeps people moving forward? What gives them faith to carry on? How do we believe in our own ability to persevere?
In the last ten years, and most acutely in the last several days, we’ve paid testament and tribute, trying to make sense and process what happened on September 11, 2001. We’ve reflected on rebuilding our collective psyche, and we’ve looked back on the past decade. It’s gotten us through the ten years.
But now, I wonder, how do we keep getting through to ten years and one day?
I spent part of September 11, 2011 with my children at their first day of Hebrew school for this school year. I hadn’t really linked the two calendar events, of marking the 9/11 anniversary and the kids starting religious school, until I sat with all the children and fellow parents at the service celebrating the school year’s start.
As the kids were led in song and prayer by our rabbi and cantor, I scanned the rows to spot the faces of my son and daughter, who sat with their classmates. I thought about what it means to have them start the journey of forming their own attachments to and beliefs in our religion.
I’ve always been somewhat ambivalent about religion in my own life, and I’m still consciously trying to figure out what I believe resolutely and what I question. It’s not completely cut and dry for me, and yet the choices about how much a part religion would play in our family life needed to be made relatively quickly, given our kids' ages and what they’d need to do if they were to be Bar and Bat Mitzvah’d in a few years.
I’ve been reflecting on it a bit more in the last couple of weeks, especially since I wrote another , about several news events and stories that had made me feel despair at the time. In that column, I wrote that I wanted to believe that in recognizing the common ground in acknowledging we all felt that same despair sometimes, we might somehow discover a mutual sense of optimism and hope.
After the column was published, a reader made a comment expressing her disappointment that nowhere in the column was there any mention of faith or God.
When I read that comment, it gave me pause, for it made me pause longer than I would have expected.
God, in column writing, is a touchy subject. First of all, is it lower-case ‘g’? Is it upper-case ‘G’? Is it the way I was taught in Hebrew school, where it’s too profane to actually write the word completely, so you spell it G-d?
More seriously, we’ve seen how religion can polarize and divide, and in opinion column writing, religion is one of those topics that people take very near to heart.
Even though I’m still trying to figure out the extent of my beliefs in any deity, there’s still a sense of community I can feel amongst people who are members of my same faith. What was enlightening and gratifying, during yesterday’s service, was seeing how full the sanctuary was. It was filled with kids who were actively taking part in the service, standing by the rabbi’s side to sing the prayers, even the youngest raising their voices together.
I was heartened by the number of teenagers who were part of the ritual first day of religious school. You know, what surly teen chooses to go take part in organized religion at 9:00 am on a weekend morning these days! But sure enough, there were at least two dozen.
Even with my philosophical questions unanswered, even with the path not so clear, I think I’m slowly starting to define the role religion plays in my life. There’s something about being able to have faith in my community that is reinforced in watching my children become their own people in that same community.
It’s a vision that gives me faith for September 12, and beyond.