Overcoming a Hopeless Moment the Mussar Way

Overcoming a hopeless moment

My summer vacation is over, and it’s nice to be back in a routine. Actually, I kind of miss vacation, but I don’t miss being sick the entire month of July. Right before I came down with pneumonia, I wrote an article that appeared on Tikkun.org called Join the Mensch Movement. It was after the Democratic sit in in Congress as a protest against inaction on gun violence. I explained that John Lewis is a mensch — he has dedicated his life to fighting injustice. At one point, the Democrats on the floor of Congress started singing “We Shall Overcome.” Believe it or not, I have used that same song to diffuse family situations. It not a go to strategy for overcoming a hopeless moment.

My family was on vacation. It was one of those awful vacation moments when the entire family was bickering. Two teenagers and two strong willed parents can be volatile. Feeling helpless and hopeless, suddenly I started to sing.

We shall overcome.

We shall overcome.

We shall overcome, some day.

Those were the only words that I knew, so I started to sing them again until the stunned silence was replaced by howls of protest.

We shall overcome.

We shall overcome.

We shall overcome, some day.

At the time, I was practicing the soul trait of Patience. Mussar teaches that Patience is a gift, to help bear the burden of an unpleasant situation until it is over. For me, it was a struggle to sing or yell, which would have hurt and upset people who were already frustrated and suffering. People I loved.

I agreed to stop singing if we could stop arguing, and carry on without complaint. It was a compromise, a fragile peace that opened a space for us to be together. It gave us hope.

Did anything change from the Democratic sit in? There was still a recess, and there is still no new gun legislation. But for the men in women in Congress who are part of the Democratic party, they were changed. They had hope. Sometimes we need to act. We can’t just sit there in silence and suffer. Sometimes we need to take action.

So in a hopeless place, sometimes all we can do is sing.

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