The Reality of Fear and Change

June 8, 2020
Police ride side by side during a Santa Monica protest on May 31. Photo courtesy of Lorelei Laird

Recently, as I sheltered in my home, fearing not only the invisible enemy of a deadly virus but also the very visible and noisy protestors half of a block from my house, I sank into a deep dread. My personal reality has been dealing with my husband’s systemic illness: being admitted and discharged from the hospital multiple times over the past few weeks, and sensing another trip was imminent as curfew approached.

My inner and outer world has felt totally upside-down and, at times, terrifying. For 24 hours, necessary medication wasn’t accessible because our Rite-Aid was closed as a result of a violent break-in and stealing frenzy by desperate looters in the pharmacy. Overwhelming helplessness began to seep into my center. In rare moments, I have succumbed to such feelings and, in these most trying times, I sensed the pull and seduction of those feelings again.

But then, there was the rage. The fantasy of standing on my front porch actually holding a gun, shouting at strangers to stay away or they would pay dearly, as I protected my home and my family. Who was this person my subconscious released into the world? The image was almost as frightening as the reality I’ve been living.

The rage is real. Our enemies are both unprecedented and all too familiar. A déjà vu surfaced of sitting huddled with my then-younger children and husband as fire and looting overtook Los Angeles during the last race confrontation. The Rodney King beating unleashed the venom that lay under the surface for so many.

Yet, this is different. A level of maturity rests among much of the nation. People of all colors and religions, together, share their outrage and absolute indignation at the horrific sight of a man dying in front of our very eyes. Generations ago, he would have been hung by a rope while white people dressed in white garb stood with pride at their accomplishment. In rural America, these scenes were all too common — but the nation didn’t have to face its reality.

Today, through the technology of a tiny phone, horror and inhumanity are now transmitted for the whole world to see, forcing every person in the world to face the cruelty and inhumanity that exists within the heart of some men (and women). 

Our enemies are both unprecedented and all too familiar.

Now we say enough is enough! One black man, a man with a family, one of God’s children, has become a symbol — a martyr — to rally all good people to demand a reckoning that is much overdo and hopefully, not too late.

As a child of Holocaust survivors, I can only imagine what it would have meant decades earlier if all good people had joined to protest the wanton denigration of Jews. To see the police officers humiliate and force the last breaths out of George Floyd’s body prompted another déjà vu, of police beating and kicking unarmed men and women as they walked down the streets in Germany and Poland. Watching those in uniform wield their power is a cellular traumatic memory for many of us. 

And let us not ignore that our own government has set the tone for such behavior repeatedly to exist and resurface, highlighted by a president standing with a Bible in hand as he permitted innocent, peace-loving people to be attacked with toxic sprays and rubber bullets.

Yes, the world is upside-down, but it is the pus that comes to the surface, the fever that represents the sepsis within that is being released so medical attention will be addressed and healing can take place.

We all have personal challenges. We all live with enemies looming before us —  but we have wisdom, strength and the ability to act. The irony for me is that our leadership has been given a strange gift — a pandemic and racial inequality, challenges that call for rising up, bringing hope and making meaningful change. This opportunity has been squandered by our country’s leadership! I believe this darkness will invite and welcome new light and transformation to take place once and for all.

Rabbi Cantor Eva Robbins is a rabbi, cantor, artist and the author of “Spiritual Surgery, Journey of Healing Mind, Body and Spirit.” 

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