Healed by Words or Deeds?
Say “Thank You”—Out Loud
When Rabbi Kushner Opened His Mouth to Speak,
All Frailty Was Gone
He is large man, well over six feet tall, but for all his height, he seemed frail. His steps were slow and measured as he walked across the stage and took his seat. When it was his turn to speak, he again used deliberate steps to move to the podium. All frailty was gone, however, when Rabbi Harold Kushner, age eighty, began talking. The rich powerful tones of his voice dispelled any notion of weakness and instead radiated strength.
I’m not Jewish and I’ve never seen the inside of a synagogue, but Rabbi Kushner and I have a history. He didn’t know about our history until Sunday, November 22, when he finished his talk at the Miami Book Fair. Rabbi Kushner has written a new book, Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life, and he was speaking at the Book Fair to tell people about that book, but also to speak of God, the God he knows, the God he got to know more deeply after his son died at age fourteen from progeria, a rapidly aging disease. When Kushner spoke of God, it was almost like being in church, which was appropriate, because it was Sunday morning: “God does not send the problem. God sends strength to cope with the problem.” In Kushner’s view, the one he shared in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, God is neither the cause of nor the cure for the aches, pains, and sometimes-agonizing experiences that tend to break us. As Rabbi Kushner shared again Sunday, God gives us the strength to carry on after such experiences challenge us. Each of us will continue to meet sometimes-heartbreaking situations as long as we live. According to Kushner, asking “why” when we are faced with heartbreak “is not a question. It’s a cry of pain.” I felt better about God after listening to Rabbi Kushner speak earlier today. I felt better about life. I also was reminded of my history with Rabbi Kushner.
When Rabbi Kushner completed his talk, the microphone in the Chapman Center at Miami-Dade College was open for audience questions. I’m not one to jump up in a conference room of several hundred people and speak in a spontaneous manner, but I did. I was first to step up to the microphone:
“I have a comment for Rabbi Kushner,” I said.
“In 1986, my daughter died from brain cancer. Her name was Alexa Provo and she was seven and a half years old. After Alexa’s death, many people said some things to me that made me sad and angry. I also read many things about death and child death. Some of the things I read made me sad. Others made me angry. It was your book that began my healing. Through my healing, I have been able to reach out to others and help them heal. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to thank you in person. Thank you…”
My voice started breaking, so, to the sound of applause, I returned to my seat. The woman sitting next to me wiped tears from her face. Rabbi Kushner thanked me for my comment and spoke of the many, many parents and other grieving people who have told him that his words have helped them in their grief journeys.
* * * * *
I remember my days of being steeped in grief and how Dr. Kushner’s book was one of the life rafts that held me afloat. When I once had so many questions of why God would let such a thing happen and I received only glib, useless, or painful answers, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People gave me permission to stop asking questions and accept that bad things sometimes just happen. Much as we want to believe that our lives, our world, our universe, have order, often they do not. Receiving the gift of strength to keep walking through that chaos and find joy in life is where we often find help from God.
I have purchased more than a few copies of When Bad Things Happen to Good People. At one time, I kept them on hand to give or send to people who were hurting because I knew that Kushner’s words would not further their hurt. I hoped that, as they did for me, Kushner’s words would help them heal.
Thanking Rabbi Kushner was an honor. My gratitude was and is heartfelt. Gratitude is the watchword this month and especially this week. I am grateful for the chance to thank Rabbi Kushner for helping put me on the path to healing. As Rabbi Kushner said on Sunday, you can “find God in the willingness of people to hold your hands and dry your tears.” Who in your life has held your hand? Who has dried your tears? Who has helped you heal? Whose words or actions have made the path toward healing an easier one for you to walk? If you have such a person in your life, thank them—not in a text message or an e-mail, unless you have no other way to reach them. If you can, speak to that person. Use your voice to let them know their voice mattered, that their voice healed, just as Rabbi Kushner’s voice healed and continues to heal.