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  • Tracie

Making life sufferable

Geertz book cover

The reading discussion group is on a hiatus. In the interim a few thoughts from me.

In my first year of graduate school, one of the required readings in my religious studies core class was a book by anthropologist Clifford Geertz. I don’t remember much about what I learned in that class (it was about 18 years ago, after all), but one concept of Geertz’s really stuck with me. Geertz observes that the goal of religion in the realm of suffering is not to reduce suffering, but to make it bearable—to make life “sufferable.” (I’m paraphrasing.) That idea, that religion makes life sufferable, felt right to me all those years ago, and it continues to make a lot of sense—it is why people turn to religion in the worst of times—we look for God when we need help making life bearable, making it sufferable.

In this worst of times, with unending assaults on the dignity and bodies of black and brown people, rising incidents of antisemitism, blatant disregard for the health of our planet, war being waged on the poor, a love for guns that exceeds our love for our children, and most recently, the soul-ache from the unanswered cries of thousands of children yearning for their parents, I have decided to take a moment to think about my personal religion in Geertz’s construction (not Judaism, but Tracieism). What is it that makes life sufferable for me?

In no particular order:

  1. Lists

  2. dark chocolate

  3. sleeping on clean sheets

  4. the feel of my daughter’s hand in mine

  5. the acceptance I find in the deep brown eyes of my dog

  6. the first sip of coffee in the morning

  7. giving and receiving kindness with strangers

  8. my husband’s enveloping embrace

  9. the feeling I get after I’ve exercised

  10. the knowledge that trees talk to one another through the web of mushroom roots, known as mycelium. They use the roots as an information highway, asking for and exchanging extra nutrients when in need. In short, trees show kindness to one another. Trees. Are kind. When I read this article about it, I involuntarily exclaimed “baruch haSHem” (Blessed is God), even as I despaired at how unkind we humans are to one another.

  11. Pirkei Avot (the Wisdom of the Fathers)—Rabbi Tarfon’s words are like a mantra to me: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither may you desist from it.”

  12. my six-year-old daughter’s compassionate and childlike incredulity when I tried to explain racism: “but I have lots of brown friends. They’re just like me, but brown. Why would anyone not like them or be afraid of them? They’re just like me.”

  13. art—I feel better when I make it and when I stop and appreciate it.

  14. music—the capacity for music to express or engender deep emotion in me is awe-inspiring

  15. new ideas. I love learning and thinking and understanding, even when I am understanding God-awful truths.

  16. Silent prayer in the middle of synagogue service. In that moment in the Reform liturgy on shabbat, I feel closest to the Divine. I can talk to the God that is in me and around me and feel not an answer, but at least a presence of something more-than-myself. She is crying with me, and that makes life a little more sufferable.

  17. Witnessing others’ courageous moments of vulnerability. I have a hard time being vulnerable. Brene’ Brown has convinced me it is the only way to live whole heartedly.

  18. Brene’ Brown

  19. the feeling of accomplishment after I’ve neatened my desk or picked up the living room or re-arranged the fiesta wear into patterns in the cupboard or neatly stacked clean linens in the linen closet.

  20. The thought/hope that I can make some small difference in this worst of times

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