Friday, December 3, 2010

New book filled with warmth, wit and wisdom

It’s Friday and time yet again for another posting of “Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts” (IJS&F). Today, let’s take a peek at a new book and the importance of friendship and community.

I just finished reading an essay on chevra, the Hebrew work for society, as often as not used to describe a special community of friends. The piece was written by Pamela Gottfried, a renaissance woman – rabbi, artist and writer; wife and mom extraordinaire. It’s just one of many special essays that make up her just released book, “Found In Translation, Common Words of Uncommon Wisdom”.

The focus of the chevra piece is of special import to my wife, the Lovely Miss Wendy, because Pamela builds the essay around a valiant group of women – including Wendy – who took part a few years ago in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure, here in the Land of Cotton.

Such walks, held annually around the country, raise millions of dollars for breast cancer research. The mega-events attract thousands of men and women, many breast cancer survivors, others walking in honor of friends and family who have died from the disease.

Pamela doesn’t explain why she decided to take part in the walk, but instead details the preparation necessary to successfully complete the 60-mile trek – 20 miles a day, often slugging along for 10 hours, then resting up as best you can in smallish tents and showering in itsy-bitsy cubicles. Hey, it’s an adventure and the spartan nature of the effort increases the feel-good factor exponentially.

That said, there’s nothing easy or fun about taking 10-mile training walks and Pamela realized when she had only about 3-months left to prepare for the event that it was time to find a group – a chevra. At the time she didn’t realize what an impact the group would have on her life.

“Our weekly conversations began as a comparing of notes,” Pamela writes. “They developed into a sharing of life stories.” She learned that walking has a way of opening people up, allowing them to share bits and pieces of their lives. At the other end of the spectrum, walking also allows people to be with one another in “comfortable silence”.

Years ago, when I was youngish, still had hair and was looking for adventure, I did a little running. In fact, now that I think about it, I did a lot of running for about a decade. It all started with jogging, my thinking at the time that a little exercise might be good for both my physical and mental health.

It was a good idea. After only a few months, I had lost 20 pounds, was running 7-minute miles and entering races. Eventually the madness – if I haven’t made it clear, this running thing became somewhat of an obsession – led me to entering marathons.

A little training can get you through weekend fun runs, but running a marathon means you’re probably going to be doing some serious workouts. It wasn’t unusual for me to run every day, doing 3 to 8 miles each afternoon during the work week and spending hours over the weekend doing long runs – sometimes 15 to 20 miles.

In the summer, training was hellish, a hot and sweaty grind that left me exhausted. In the fall and winter I was often chilled and, um, bored silly, spending hours by myself running along the same neighborhood routes, occasionally jogging endless laps around a track at a nearby school. Try running 80 laps around a track – that would be 20 miles – and holding onto your sanity!

Every so often I’d find myself running behind another nut, I mean runner. Occasionally, it would become clear we were both training at about the same pace and after a bit we’d find ourselves running together.

At some point the inevitable questions would be asked – how long have you been running; do any track workouts; what sort of shoes do you like best? Eventually, the running queries would give way to the stuff of life – family, jobs, religion and politics.

And then there were the silences, filled with miles of huffing and puffing, sprinting along dirt roads, jogging across grassy fields, straining up rambling hills. Often the effort was made less difficult simply by having someone else nearby, wheezing and struggling next to me.

Once upon a time, I would have told you that such training was easier with another person nearby because misery loves company. I think Pamela has a better idea. “Members of a chevra are dedicated to one another,” she writes.

Even strangers, I’d now argue, can be dedicated to one another, especially if they’re both in pain and working toward a common goal.

Given the, um, pain of life, it’s probably a good idea for all of us to find ourselves a chevra filled with folks who share the same sorts of hopes and dreams we cling to and, if we’re really lucky, are trudging down life’s path in search of similar goals.

That’s just one little nugget I’ve spotted in “Found In Translation”. My guess is Pamela has hidden away a few additional surprises – ripe tomatoes, perhaps – in the essays exploring “common words of uncommon wisdom”!

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