Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It Could Always Be Worse…

… is the name of an old Jewish folktale that speaks to our condition today. A family lives in a small house and the noise and commotion of the three children is driving the father crazy. They’re practicing squeaky violins, having pillow fights, shouting at each other and throwing tantrums. He goes to the rabbi for advice, who suggests bringing his chicken into the house. The chicken squawks and flies up on shelves knocking things over, making yet more indoor turmoil. The man returns to the rabbi, who then suggests also bringing a cat in. The cat chases the chicken, scratches the furniture and so on. Back to the rabbi. Now a dog. Of course, the dog chases the cat and sheds hair all over and barks incessantly. Once more the rabbi and now a donkey. The houses is now in utter chaos. The man finally confronts the rabbi as giving the worst advice ever, but now the rabbi gives him one more suggestion. “Take all the animals out of the house.” The man does and the house returns to normal, but suddenly, “normal” seems so peaceful and quiet compared to what it had become with the animals inside. And then the moral: 

“No matter how bad things seem, remember: It could always be worse.”

This is indeed a parable for our time. Especially mine, with two energetic grandkids in the house running and jumping and screaming (sometimes—especially the 4-year old) and no time-out spaces left in our small flat when they don’t listen to their Pop-pop! But in the larger picture, I can’t help but feel that as difficult as sheltering in place is, it could be so much worse. After all, we still have heat, running water, gas for cooking, access to food, books/music/games/ puzzles/ Netflix, Zoom calls to friends and colleagues. The virus is serious and lethally dangerous, but pretty mild compared to the bubonic plague, cholera outbreaks or cancer. 

And for now, here in San Francisco we can still walk or bike in the park. The air is not tainted with radioactive waste or smoke from raging fires, the earth is not quaking and the ocean 3 miles from my house not threatening tsunamis, there are no tanks or terrorists roaming the streets. So many more serious disasters could be coming into the house—or still could. 

None of this is to dismiss or make light of the current catastrophe, but it helps a bit to be grateful that it is not so much worse than it could be. A drop of gratitude for small blessings. 

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