I was honored to attend the recent NY Board of Rabbis Gala at which former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg was presented the annual Humanitarian of the Year Award. The food was good. The multi-faith fellowship was enjoyable. The mood of the evening, even in light of global issues of unparalleled urgency, was filled with hope.
During his acceptance speech, Mayor Bloomberg said: "For all our problems, when the world votes with its feet, people still come to America. We must be doing something right!" It was a message everyone in the room needed to hear.
The gala was held a week after the massacre in Orlando, an event that reminded us that so many things are not right. That act of violence against the LGBTQ population reminded us of the act of violence in Milwaukee against the Sikh community and the act of violence in Charleston against the Black community and the horror of an ever growing list of acts of violence that encompass a litany of places we cannot forget; Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook and Aurora.
And, lest we forget, there are many other issues in our land that cause concern bordering on consternation: campaigns filled with fear and vitriolic political rhetoric, self-serving gridlock in Washington, the upward climb to a greater conversation around mental health and gun control legislation, the horrors of trafficking and the abusive sex-for-sale industry, the sobering awareness that 48.4 million Americans are currently living in poverty, and the most endangered populations are the very young and the very old, i.e., the vulnerable, frightening climate change statistics, and on and on the stories go. Not everything is right in the home of the brave and the land of the free.
As Anne Murray sang years ago, "We sure could use a little good news today."
However, maybe there is some good news. Maybe Bloomberg was correct when he said that in spite of our myriad challenges, "we must be doing something right." Maybe there is still hope and light and promise. After all, medical research continues to make great strides in the early diagnosis and treatment of devastating illnesses. Greater attention is being given to alternative energy sources that reduce the greenhouse effect and our dependence on oil, thus hopefully slowing the advance of global warming. Bipartisan populations are crying out for a more civil and honorable method of campaigning. People are giving feet to their prayers, effecting positive change, becoming advocates on important topics surrounding mental health and gun control. Because of the contemporary world of information technology, acts of racism and misogyny cannot any longer be kept out of view or swept under rugs. Multi-faith initiatives are springing up coast-to-coast with the intent of building bridges and forging pathways to peace. Unemployment figures are low.
As the Rev. Anne Kansfield (Chaplain, FDNY) said following the shootings in Orlando: "Do not forget that there was one shooter, but immediately thereafter scores of emergency responders rushed to the scene, even though for all they knew they were risking their lives by doing so." There are still daily acts of kindness, random and otherwise, too numerous to be counted in every village and hamlet from coast to coast. Love is evident. And charity. And compassion. And volunteerism. And patriotism. And kindness.
Is all right with our country? Of course not. But all is not wrong, either. And on the 4th of July there is still much to celebrate. There are worthy dreams we know are being pursued. There are lofty ideals calling masses in courageous directions. There are compassion and charity, a longing for unity that both affirms and transcends diversity, new voices respecting the aged and new initiatives protecting the young, broadening understandings of the nature of love, deepened commitments to the love of nature and shared tears in the face of national tragedies.
Together, on the 4th, we will gather to eat BBQ and watermelon, watch fireworks and sing "My Country `Tis of Thee", and whatever undeniable pains we possess will be tempered by the irrepressible hope that this great experiment in democracy is both determined and resilient. While diligently working to repair all that is not right, there are nonetheless countless reasons to celebrate all that is.