Creation Begins with Separation

Creation Begins with Separation
by Carl Josehart

It’s my least favorite part of vacation – perhaps you have faced it as well. You return from a vacation relaxed and in a good mood and one of the first things you face is a giant pile of unsorted mail – a big, chaotic pile that can seem overwhelming to face. If you are anything like me – my natural instinct is to bring order to the chaos.

I start placing the mail into piles. Bills go into one pile so that I will later take to my home office to be paid, I put catalogues and magazines into another pile that I will later take to the den so I can enjoy them during leisure time, personal correspondence and invitations go into another pile and of course – the ever present junk mail – is separated out to go into the recycling. As I sort through the pile and organize it into categories I find that a sense of order begins to emerge from the chaos – I begin to have a sense of what is urgent or not, what is for leisure or pleasure and what is not, what requires action and so on.

In Genesis, the bible describes the creation story in much the same way. We read that in the beginning, “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep…” From chaos God begins the process of sorting and organizing the elements of creation. God creates heaven and earth – separating creator from created. Then God begins organizing the newly created world. Heaven is separated from earth, light from darkness, day from night, the firmament and the seas, dry land and waters. Next we begin to see the differences within aspects of creation. For example certain parts of our world are set into a regular course – such as the sun and the moon moving in a fixed pattern of day and night, the regularity of the seasons. As creation continues we see the emergence of aspects of creation that can move as they please – animals and human beings. Finally there is the distinction between humans – who have free will – and all other living creatures.

Just as God makes order out of chaos by sorting and separating the different aspects of creation – human beings have given the same power to make order out of our chaotic world.

One of the ways that we create meaning is to create separate times and places for different uses. For example, objects take on special meaning – become sacred – when we separate them from all others and use them only for special purposes. One of my childhood friends came from an extended family that had created their own unique tradition. Each Passover the family who had the youngest child was sent a glass wine pitcher and small drinking glass to use at their Seder. The pitcher and glass had belonged to my friend’s great-grandmother and had been originally purchased for 25 cents – to look at them the objects themselves had no distinguishing characteristics – no intrinsic value. This pitcher and drinking glass became a cherished heirloom because, over several generations, they were separated from all other objects and came to represent the welcoming of a new life into the family and into Jewish life.

Candlesticks transform into Shabbas candlesticks if we separate them from the other candlesticks we may own and use them only to light Shabbat and Festival lights. Through this process we begin to associate them with special times and their presence helps to create a mood. Special foods can take on special meaning when we separate them from others and only use them in certain circumstances –for example matzah on Passover, apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah, or latkes on Hanukkah.

In much the same way, places become special when we set them aside for special purposes. For example a building becomes a place of worship –when we set it aside and use it as a place of prayer, learning, teaching, and gathering to celebrate with member of our faith community.

In Genesis we witness the step-by-step process of God transforming chaos into a beautifully organized world that has day and night, seasons, sea, land and vegetation that supports life. Perhaps as humans we have the opportunity to create meaning in our often busy and chaotic lives by separating certain times and places from all others. If we set aside special time with the ones we love and protect it from all other intrusions we create the equivalent of “sacred” spaces in the midst of our ordinary routine.


What Makes A Moment
by Carl Josehart

Unmarked by daily use
the accouterments of daily
life become wrapped in charm
and disappear amid the
profound and pleasing

Unreachable by troubles past
so it seems
new trouble
wrapped in adventure
marks the journey
will spice up the retelling

A single seagull
sings out his song
and quickly flies to find
where friends have gone


 

To Protect and Serve

To Protect and Serve

So just a few minutes ago a frail woman in her seventies approached the airport security checkpoint with her dog – well perhaps dog is too strong a word – it was more like a 5 pound animated bundle of tail wagging fur with floppy ears. The woman proceeded to do all things she was supposed to do – remove her shoes, place her belongings on the conveyor belt and pad her barefooted self over to the screening station.

All the while her tail-wagging little bundle of joy obediently stayed by her side patiently waiting its turn to go through the metal detector. When it was his owner’s turn in line, she whispered a command to the dog and it proudly marched through the metal detector to wait for her on the other side.

Standing on the other side of the screening line was one of our brave TSA agents. As tinker bell the dog pranced through the metal detector, the TSA agent looked down, let out a shriek and started screaming for assistance.

Tinker bell; sensing the TSA agent was in danger, and wanting to be of assistance, decided to walk over to her and offer some comfort and emotional support. As tinker bell cautiously approached the distraught TSA agent in a submissive posture – head down, lowering its towering 5″ frame closer to the floor so as not to appear imposing, tail between its legs – tinker bell’s proximity further escalated the screams and cries of the TSA agent who was now hugging herself in fear and whimpering for someone to come and save her.

Fortunately, at this point, a brave colleague strode up to tinker bell, bent low to the ground to pick her up, and courageously cuddled the cute little monster in his arms all the while having to withstand the onslaught of doggy kisses and vigorous tail wagging.

While waiting for the scene to return to normal I used my smartphone to visit the TSA website where the TSA described its history and vision in the following words:
History:

On the morning of September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The attacks resulted in the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, designed to prevent similar attacks in the future. Driven by a desire to help our nation, tens of thousands of people joined TSA and committed themselves to strengthening our transportation systems while ensuring the freedom of movement for people and commerce.

Vision:

Provide the most effective transportation security in the most efficient way as a high performing counterterrorism organization.

To be fair, prior attacks have involved weapons such as guns and knives and the occasional shoe bomb. As of the time of publication of this article the author has not been able to reach any TSA officials for comment. Sources close to the TSA did agree to speak off the record saying, “It’s a scary job – I am just glad the officer wasn’t hurt.” At this time, I don’t have any verifiable proof that this agent was ever formerly trained in defending against canine attack but thanks to teamwork and perseverance the crisis was averted – TSA to the rescue once again!


For further adventures in flying see Reboot, Reset, Restart

Reboot, Reset, Restart

“Did you try turning it off and turning it back on?”
“Okay then…try that now and we’ll wait”

You might think this conversation happened with your typical help desk call at work when your computer freezes. This time it was between the pilot of the commercial airplane I am on and the maintenance mechanic trying to help problem solve a warning light. I do not necessarily find it comforting that the same advice the pimply faced IT guy at my office gives me is essentially identical to the advice being given to the pilot of a major airlines responsible for the safety of over 300 crew and passengers.

“You’ll have to come back to the gate so we can swap that part out…”

“We have the part but we have to check if the software is compatible. If not, we will have to download some new software.”

So apparently this multi-billion dollar airline is not sure if the software installed in the spare parts they stock is compatible with the planes in their fleet of aircraft. Once again, not feeling reassured. I appreciate the commitment to safety, the decision to not not take off with an unexplained warning light that might be a sign of trouble. I guess I appreciate the honesty and transparency of the communication but… but I suppose I was hoping for a more impressive display of technical brilliance than – we might have to go online and download a patch if the software isn’t up-to-date.

It would be like your surgeon saying something like, ” I usually don’t operate on that body part but I downloaded the instructions from the internet and I am good to go.”

I really wanted to see a team made up of a top gun pilot, MIT mechanical engineer and NASA flight control specialist striding confidently toward the plane with an array of impressive equipment and tools. Instead, looking out the window, I saw someone who looked like he was reporting for a shift at Jiffy Lube for the first time amble towards the plane with his baggy coveralls, shaggy haircut and and crooked smirk.

I suppose it is a marvel of modern technology that it doesn’t take an MIT PhD to swap out a part on a jumbo jet but I am a firm believer in the power of theater – managing what the customer sees “on stage” to create the illusion of awe inspiring skill and talent.

There is a reason that financial investment firms and law firms invest in fancy offices with fine art and mahogany furniture. When you are being asked to turn over control of your money or potential freedom to someone; you want to be inspired – in awe. I don’t want the guy I call to keep me out of jail – or falling from 30,000 feet in the air – to look like the last book he read was long on pictures and short on words.

In the end, we got lucky – the part fit, the software matched and Vinnie Barbarino gave our pilot the thumbs up to take off. Now if I could just get my seat back to its upright and locked position, my tray table stowed and power down my communication devices we will be up, up and away.


Other adventures in flying Bright Colors ,To Protect and Serve

Alcatraz

On a visit to Alcatraz I was struck by the contrast between the view of the San Francisco coast and its unparalled beauty and the lives of the prisoners who were once held on this island. In addition to losing their freedom, it seemed a special kind of cruelty to face their internment with a view of such welath and beauty – close enough to almost touch but permanently out of reach.

As I reflected on this experience, it seemed to be a metaphor for many of our cities. Neighborhoods of immense wealth butting against neighborhoods of abject poverty. The view of those living with abundance an added humilation and burden to those living with sacrcity, hunger and fear.

If Mahatma Gandhi’s words are true that “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” then I fear for how we will be judged.

Perhaps it is time for us to imagine a time when we turn all of our prisons into parks, and neighborhoods of despair into communities of caring and hope.


ALCATRAZ
by Carl Josehart

Sailing on his parents
yacht
the little blond boy
with clear blue eyes and
bright future
glides effortlessly
freely
past
a rock fortress
jutting out from
the gently rolling
water

High above him
caged in a dark cell
a blond man/boy
presses his once
innocent
youthful face
against
unforgiving iron bars
he imagines a faint mist
of salt spray
brushing past his lips
and he dreams of open spaces

the little blond boy with
chestnut
sun kissed legs
climbs high atop the mast
leans out and looking toward the horizon
the boat vanishes
he is alone
flying above the
blue ocean
keeping pace with
a silvery seagull

straining
rust cutting into his skin
from bars on the window
man/boy squints one eye closed
and tries to imagine his
cage gone
just for a moment
to be outside the bars
sunlight warming his skin
gone pale from
dank
damp
darkness

one
atop another
they live
cramped
into
too small cells
too narrow almost
to stand
too small almost
to breathe
too drab almost
to live

one
aside another
they exist
mute
in enforced silence
tapping in tempo
to talk
whispering down
empty pipes
which carry their thoughts
hopes
and dreams
alongside
sewage
out so sea
washed away
like lives
too broken to fix
too heavy to float which
sink like stones
skipped on waves
by a little blond boy
with clear blue eyes
and chestnut
sin kissed legs
sailing
on his parents’
yacht


 

Witch Hunt

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

― Edmund Burke

Witch Hunt

by Carl Josehart

The court was hushed as he walked in. It was a silence that came from a respect for the place in which the people sat. A court of law equipped with all of the symbols that had given the defendant a feeling of security, patriotism and pride in his country as he was growing up. He looked at the flag and thought of the years in school when he had pledged his allegiance to his flag and his country never once thinking to ask for the country’s pledge in return – thinking that the pledge was implicitly there.

Looking at the deeply lined face and graying hair of the judge in his black robe he saw the face of a solemn and serious man but grown hard from years of seeing and hearing what a judge sees and hears from the bench. The cold indifference belied that he had long since relinquished seeing the defendants who came before him as individuals. He had surrendered his struggle with the law, its intent, and his youthful yearning to play a role in creating a fair and just society. Now he presided over his court with a comfort that came with years of practice and an efficiency born of a verbatim knowledge of enough precedents to mete out sentences that always held to the letter of the law but rarely its spirit.

The prosecuting attorney by contrast looked nervous. Repeatedly wiping sweat off his young brow with a handkerchief in a courtroom that was not hot. The defendant thought to himself that this must be his first witch-hunt almost felt sorry for him. Then, remembering the seriousness of the consequences if he were found guilty, decided he had no reason to feel sorry for him. Still, there was something about the way he kept looking at the defendant. Something about the way he carried himself that almost suggested…no, it couldn’t be, surely a witch, even in disguise, would never be a part of a with-hunt.

Time seemed almost frozen in the courtroom as men in crisply pressed three piece suits, starched shirts and expensive silk ties argued with each other in a language and style that was unusual and almost incomprehensible to the defendant. One thing was clear, his life, career, and happiness somehow hung in the balance to be decided by this ritualistic ceremony.

When it was his turn to be questioned, he took the stand, placed his shaking hand on a well-worn bible and swore by a god that he did not believe in that he would tell the truth and was seated. The nervous prosecuting attorney approached him in an almost apologetic manner and began to ask questions. The prosecuting attorney had the practiced style and incisive mind of one who had gone to the finest schools and had had all the right jobs and certainly had made law review. The defendant answered the questions quickly and honestly. Because he did not believe that his “crime” was a crime, he could not conceive of a defense. As the prosecuting attorney piled evidence upon evidence, substantiated fact upon substantiated fact he simultaneously became more and more nervous needing to wipe sweat off his brow at an ever-increasing rate. Coughing and clearing his throat, his gaze returned again and again to the defendant’s eyes burning with a rage that seemed to cry out to him, “Don’t make this so easy…fight me…fight for yourself, why won’t you defend yourself?”

It was then that the defendant realized that he had been right; the prosecuting attorney was a witch in disguise – hiding in plane sight. His brother was burning him at the stake to buy a false sense of security that comes from “passing” – a ransom paid to live another day.

When the jury shuffled back into the court with their verdict it was no surprise that they found the defendant guilty. The prosecuting attorney had done a thorough job and with an insider’s knowledge had known all the right questions to ask. When the prisoner was escorted out of the courtroom there was no family or friends to weep for him; they had long since abandoned him in shame. Out of the corner of his eye though he saw the prosecuting attorney, his face pale, and with the expression of one that is seeing a ghost, look over to him with eyes that pleaded to know why he had not fought.

As the guards led the prisoner away he jerked himself to a halt in front of the prosecuting attorney, locked eyes and calmly addressed the unspoken question, “The question you should be asking yourself is not why I did not fight, but rather why you did not fight.”

With that, the guards hurried the prisoner away and the prosecuting attorney ran to the restroom to become violently ill. Retching over the toilet, the cold porcelain toilet bowl did nothing to stop the throbbing in his head as the prisoner’s words echoed over and over on an infinite loop.

Reflections on Julius

Reflections on Julius
by Carl Josehart

The son of immigrant parents, life had been hard for him. Not hard in the sense of not having enough money or a place to live – both of his parents were trained as physicians in their country or origin – but rather hard in the sense of feeling the burdens of being the first generation born in America. His parents’ singular dream was to have their son go to one of the best colleges in America and then follow in their footsteps and become a physician.

We were roommates my junior year of college; thrown together in that random way that universities do when they assign you a place in the dormitory system. Though not close friends we became close in the way that you have to when sharing a small living space with someone. He would tell me stories from his childhood, like how his father would never hug him without it turning into a physical examination where he would gently outline and name each bone and organ system – in his mind reinforcing the basic knowledge of anatomy that his son would need as a future physician.

His childhood had been organized around the singular focus of preparing him to enter university and once he began his undergraduate studies that same singular focus was applied to preparing for medical school. Night after night he would politely decline invitations from our group of friends to join us for dinner, a movie on the weekend, a trip to the zoo or to attend a party. It was always the same – he needed to study. Returning to the room later is was not uncommon for me to find him asleep on his open textbook. When he would wake upon hearing me enter the room I would often chuckle that he had the crease from his textbook lining his serious face. I often went to sleep with him in bed studying – using his blanket in a tent-like fashion to shield the light to allow me to sleep.

We lost touch after that year but I heard that he was accepted to an excellent medical school in the Midwest. It was a couple of years later that I got the call from one of my college friends. Julius is dead. He was killed by a drunk driver walking home from the medical school library at 2:00 in the morning. In those shocked moments I could picture the years since I had seen him last. I knew that he would have approached medical school with the same focus and drive that he tackled college. He would have delayed participating in social events; he would have politely declined invitations to allow more time for studying. He would have put off developing deep friendships or dating until graduation when in his mind he would have the time. I imagine that when graduation came he would have been accepted to a competitive residency program at a leading institution and I wondered if he would have continued to put off most of his life waiting for his studies to be over.

When I think of him I think of his intelligence and his potential -the vast untapped potential that the world never had the chance to fully experience. I think of all that he denied himself and put off to some undetermined date – waiting for his life to begin. The lessons of his loss are many. The overwhelming sense of the potential lost to the world is part of what drove me to a career in rehabilitation. A field where we see and value the potential in individuals that sometimes are overlooked by society – where it might be easy to overlook their potential for contribution but we devote ourselves to unlocking their ability to participate and contribute – to work, school, community or perhaps to family and relationships.

I also bring up Julius as an example for all of us. We all need to plan for the future; it is often prudent to set aside pleasures of today to work towards future goals – our children’s college education, a retirement fund, saving for our first home. But the lesson of Julius is that we also need to “spend” today. Spend our time, spend our love, and enjoy life now because today is all that we have for sure. I also talk about Julius because I want him to be remembered. He spent so much time investing in the future that he missed the chance to form friendships and attachments but I don’t want that kind and gentle person I came to know through the random room assignment process to be lost to the world. His largest accomplishments were yet to be but his devotion to prepare himself for a life of service as a physician should be honored and remembered.

I would challenge each of us to examine our life and look at what we are putting off – what are the things that we are waiting to do until we have more time. Life does not settle down. In fact, life speeds up and the years go by faster. As a child the time between summer vacations from school was an eternity. We lived an entire lifetime it seemed each year in school. Now the time between the start of one year and the next seems to be a blink of the eye. By the time we are comfortable writing the correct year on documents it seems we are preparing for the next year. Just as we have a strategic plan for our business that helps ensure that we don’t let the pressures of daily life lead us to miss the important priorities, perhaps we should also have a strategic plan for our lives that helps ensure that we don’t allow the hustle and bustle of daily life to distract us from the most important things in our personal life; things like family, community and friends.