Monday, April 5, 2010

weltschmerz//tikkun olam

I've been looking for a week and I can't find my watch. That is the bad news. The good news is that I have been unearthing great things that have been buried here and there as I have been searching for the watch.

Just yesterday I came across two items within minutes. The first made me smile. The second made me smile, but differently.

The first item is a photo my brother snapped on a trip we took through Wisconsin several years ago. We were driving from Madison to Green Bay and came to the town of Oshkosh which sits on the shores of Lake Winnebago. I like lakes so we pulled over and drove toward the water. We found ourselves on a suburban looking side street and could see the lake in the distance. We drove to water's edge and then saw a sign that made us stop and get the camera. Not more than 15 yards from the water, we saw a sign that read "Dead End."

Really. No kidding. Dead End.

What city planners thought that that sign was necessary? Maybe they figured that at night someone might not see the lake. Then how about a fence, or a lamp-post. No fence, no lamp post. Just a sign for anyone who, from 15 yards away, could miss the state's largest lake that covers, I just looked up, over 200 square miles.

So we got out and took a picture, and yesterday I smiled thinking about it.

I put the photo down, kept looking for the watch, and a moment later I came across a card sent to me by my teenage camp sweetheart. She had pasted a copy of the moon in the shape of a heart in the card. In the card she wrote that she was considering painting the heart with the words "tikkun olam" written underneath it and sending the painting to me.

The thought was sincere but I never received the painting--so perhaps there is something symbolic about picking up the dead end photo seconds before finding the card. Yet, reading the card made me smile.

Tikkun olam is a phrase that means repairing the world. If you subscribe to tikkun olam you assert that our world has been ruptured and it is our responsibility as those who inhabit the planet to repair that rupture. Weltschmerz means a state of depression or apathy that comes from comparing the ideal state of the world with its actual state. If you buy the idea of tikkun olam, there is a cure for weltschmerz and that is doing what is necessary to repair the rupture. My erstwhile camp sweetheart thought, apparently, that what fueled tikkun olam was the heart. I smiled when I reread the card.

In the second game on Saturday, Duke was ahead, yet its opponent West Virginia was valiantly attempting to come back from a deficit. In the middle of the second half a player named Da'Sean Butler, the spiritual leader of the team, drove hard to the basket. He collided with an opponent. Butler then began writhing on the floor in what appeared to be tremendous pain. He looked to be in agony as he flailed away on the floor.

What I saw next was something I have never seen in college sports. As Butler was jerking about, his coach--Bob Huggins--came out onto the court and kneeled over his player. He got as close to Butler as lovers do when they are about to embrace. What he said, we will never know, but he was speaking to his player attempting to console him. Doing what he could to comfort him, repair the rupture to whatever extent he could. The doctors were working on his leg, but Huggins was working on the players heart. It seemed natural and sincere.

There is balm in Gilead and that balm is the amalgam of concern, consideration, and a natural willingness to come out of your comfort zone, to love. Noone would have blamed Huggins for coaching his players instead of consoling Butler. Noone would have blamed him if all he did was stand up and shout platitudes. But instead he got in his player's face and whatever he said could be translated as, I love you.

What is the cure for paralyzing weltschmerz? Tikkun Olam. And love. And if you are willing to do that, work toward repairing the world, there are fewer dead ends and watches do not report time spent as much as time enjoyed.

By the way, Butler stays close tonight, until the end. Then Duke wins in double figures.

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