At High Holiday services just a few days ago, Rabbi Joel Sisenwine told a story that, at first, seemed off-base in the middle of the seriousness of the day. He began to talk about a 2014 Garth Brooks concert in Minneapolis. I wondered what the point was until the Rabbi described the moment when the singer spotted a sign in the audience that said “Chemo this morning. Garth tonight. Enjoying the Dance.” The woman who was holding the sign and who had a scarf around her head was brought to the front of the auditorium. Brooks stopped the show, sat down on the edge of the stage, and embraced her. He then went on to finish his song – “The Dance.” I have watched the video several times and appreciate what an emotional moment it was for the woman, Brooks, the audience, and now for me seeing and hearing what occurred that night.
Once the Rabbi described the incident, he asked us to consider the idea of “when to stop the show.” I have been thinking about this a lot. It is a compelling question for me and I have been mulling the circumstances under which I would stop the show, or when I have stopped it in the past.
As I thought about this I realized that to address this challenge I first had to decide what my “show” is and whether I had more than one. After hours of reflection I concluded, at least for now, that I really only have one show. It is the essential ethic that I hold deeply, and how I use that paradigm to manage my life. My show doesn’t involve performances in front of huge assemblies, on-stage dramatics, or displays of grand talent. It is just my simple, ordinary existence. Although I live and act in various settings, my decisions about what I do in diverse situations come from what is most important to me and what I value personally.
I recognize that I never really stop the show; I just hesitate long enough to decide when and how to act on what my instinct tells me is the right thing to do. The longer I live, the less time I need to take action. I have mostly worked out what is important to me and I can almost instantly recognize, retrieve, and gather together those tenets. I wonder if this is what Garth Brooks did when he interrupted his performance. He was at the end of a regular concert, but was driven to respond to something that appeared unexpectedly – an out-of-the-blue occurrence that seemed to touch his core. He didn’t hesitate. He just did it.
Many of us may have similar reactions to profound situations even though our frameworks may be different. It doesn’t really matter what the source of our perspective is. It matters that we care and that we act in a compassionate, meaningful way. I don’t want to imply that I operate in a knee-jerk mode. It’s just that I have learned to trust the knowledge and understanding that I have accumulated over many years. I allow myself to react to something that jumps out at me. Something that demands my attention and which I can’t ignore because it jabs at my ingrained spirit.
I, like so many others, have stopped my efforts when there was someone close to me who needed help. There were countless times when I took care of elders who turned to me during crises. I have done this so much that I expect I will do the same thing when another loved-one needs me. I will stop what I am doing to hold and comfort them.
I know that I will stop my current activities when something gets in the way of the work I am trying to do to benefit my community and all of us who reside here. I have cancelled meetings and dinners when I must speak out at a hearing or talk with elected officials about the need to improve the life circumstances of those who live near me – the young, the middle-agers, the old, and those who, (yes, right here in my hometown), don’t have enough money to buy food and stay warm.
Beyond my immediate surroundings I can’t do as much because it is so dauntingly huge. Still, I have stopped my daily dealings to travel to Washington and march with a half-million others to protest national policies that harm ordinary people like me. I sign what I hope are worthy petitions to preserve benefits like health care and to support “dreamers” in their quest to create productive lives in this country.
My show-stoppers don’t involve dramatic interventions, but reflect my basic drive to respond kindly to people and to act on the things that I feel are critically important. These are not one-off happenings but reliable, consistent reactions that reach into my core. So, I really have only one show – me and my personal motivation to respond to others who may need a kind word, some recognition, and a simple hug.