Art Therapy

“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…..Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist” ― Stephen Hawking


“One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…..Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist” ― Stephen Hawking

Can You See?

I have been occupied recently with being able to see. I had cataract operations on both eyes, and obviously was asked repeatedly: “can you see …. the top line, bottom line, left eye, right eye,” and so on. How far can we see, how clearly can we see, and what exactly do we see? Two weeks ago, we woke up to sights we did not really want to see. The horror that confronted us was so horrific that we could not believe what we saw. You all saw; I still cannot grasp what I saw. My brain cannot accept that human beings lost all their humanity. The pain that permeated my body is a pain that I cannot describe, yet is familiar from past experiences. I could not look any more; I could not see beyond the pain.

I listened to an interview with Yuval Noah Harari, in which he brought up the fact that psychologically it is impossible for someone in pain to see the pain in another person. Our brain is designed to be vigilant to danger. The amygdala, the ancient part of our brain, protects us from annihilation by screaming in our being: “DANGER, DANGER, DANGER!” and we naturally flip our top, so that the frontal cortex, the thinking, rational, planning part of us, is no longer in control. That is when we see only our pain. The world, looking at the images, sees other things as well. They see and react to the woman whose child was killed in Gaza and the people whose homes were destroyed – images that reflect pain, but as Harari said so well, and I quote: “Just as Israelis have so much pain that they do not have any space to even acknowledge the pain of others, I think the same is true of Palestinians who have been living in horrible conditions for decades.” When you are in pain you can not see both sides.

Pain makes us wear magic glasses that look only inward. We are victims. We cannot perceive ourselves as perpetrators, yet we are both. If we look beyond the pain at our history, our individual deeds, and our collective deeds we can see that in each of us lives a victim and a perpetrator. The level of our humanity is determined by how we balance and regulate both of them. When do we allow ourselves to become victims, and what do we gain from this state? What kind of a perpetrator are we, and for what purpose? Is it to save another individual, a friend, ourselves, or in order to exact revenge?

Will the cycle of violence ever end? Who needs to shoulder the responsibility? Looking at history we can see conflicts that persisted for decades – for example in Ireland. Only when their leaders, who were invested in their own power and sense of superiority, were replaced by leaders who saw the advantage of cooperation, did the conflict end. You may find it worthwhile to watch Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland, a 2023 British documentary television miniseries covering the ethno-nationalist conflict known as “The Troubles” (the link to it works, but apparently you can watch it only in the UK). On YouTube there are some trailers, which may be reminiscent of scenes we are familiar with. One sentence in the official trailer, spoken in a quiet voice, hit me: “They weren’t horrible people. They did horrible things.” The question of shouldering responsibility is a more difficult one. Ideally each of us feels responsible for the tasks we undertake, but we trust the people we elect as our leaders to do the same for the tasks they undertake. Are we responsible if we trust blindly? Are the slaughtered people the ones who paid the price for trusting in the ability of the leadership to keep everyone safe? Other than taking up arms and removing the corrupt leadership that fell asleep at the wheel, what can we do?

Part of the frustration, anger, agony, and pain I feel is because many of us did see. We saw the thirst for power; we protested and put ourselves in front of the runaway car with a power-drunk driver, but the car kept coming at us. Some of the other power-drunk drivers even started shooting at us, but we were not prepared to shoot. We let them pretend they were protecting us and were lulled by their promise that the one thing the leader does excel at is keeping us safe. He never even accepted responsibility for the outcome of his failure. Will the ones who trusted him and brought him to be the “powerful leader” see and accept their responsibility and say “never again?” Only time will tell. In an emotional speech, Florida Rep. Randy Fine spoke about the Jewish history of massacres and antisemitism, but one sentence he said hit me hard. I usually advise people not to look too much at the images shown on television and media outlets in order to preserve sanity and continue to function. What he said was the opposite: “I urge you, do not look away.” What he urged was to remember, to realize that the world may be filled with human beings, but there are also monsters among us. We need to remember, to stay vigilant in order that the monsters do not win.

List of funerals for Wednesday

For me, now is the time to see other things. To see the wounds and find ways to heal them. To see the beauty of the many who open their hearts, homes, pockets, and arms to embrace all who need comforting. To see that we are still not home free; we will still need to bury our dead and comfort the grieving. It is not time yet to relax but to see, to look around. It is time to live in the moment and to hope for the day after, when change must come and healing will be possible. And the land will grow quiet… (והארץ תשקוט Natan Alterman, The Silver Platter).

Can you see? Say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light? Look – I can see it, clear and bright.

— 2023-10-25