We Are Still Being Called to Action

There you go, and here we are. Did we need reminding? Of meaning and truth? And its arbiters? We did. We always do.

I fled the city to be with family: I needed something simple to believe in again. When I returned to New York for clothes and to check on my place, my friend Dina and I sat on the rocks in Brooklyn and looked at Manhattan across the East River: “all the singles left, and all the couples are stuck,” she laughed. She’s right, and I thought of her somewhere in Greenpoint with her boyfriend as sundown approached this fateful Friday night, to what so many call the Super Bowl of Jewish holidays. My father and I walked into limited outdoor services with narrow six-foot long tables that each seated only two masked people, one on either side, sporting individually wrapped honey sticks alongside disinfectant. An intimate little diaspora. Our faith has been sanitized. 

Maybe that’s a good thing. 

Everything is different, and yet some things never change. Behind his N-95 mask, Papa not-so-jokingly asked the rabbi to pray for a nice, young man for me, and I rolled my eyes. A gesture that can’t be hidden even during COVID. One of the mothers asked that I teach her daughter writing. I met a woman named Leah who is starting at the School of Pharmacology—I didn’t ask for her prognosis about the vaccine, but I was grateful she existed. I’m sure someone’s trying to set her up, too. 

And I realized how long it’s been since I’ve seen so many strangers. So many people capable of thought and love, craving each other as we wonder about renewal and repentance. 

And so we’re thrust from recovery to responsibility with a kind of clockwork shock, a perennial epiphany. And suddenly it’s so obvious it hurts, that a righteous human being who demanded that women be present “in all the places that decisions are being made,” who devoted herself to the expansion of “we, the people” to create indeed a more “perfect union,” would come to rest on the eve of a new lunar cycle, the beginning of an unprecedentedly insular academic year after the final gasp of summer, leaving us to wrestle and shoulder a more honest kind of growth and reckoning. 

And I’m not afraid to admit that I’m afraid. Of course I am. I’m a playwright and a Jew and a woman and an educator. So many of the spaces I have devoted my life to are dormant for the unforeseeable future. 

What will the passing of this honorable and rigorous luminary mean during a literal and figurative pandemic when our traditional spaces of healing and revelation are compromised? Who will be galvanized and why? Will our hearts harden or soften? Which of our unshakeable beliefs will we cling to even more strongly? And which will we thank and release?

I’m aware that I’m always either preaching to the choir or talking to a brick wall. That seems to be the eternal plight of progress in this pandemic: either voices raised and praised in song or entirely unheard. 

I want to blame the world-historical circumstances we’re living under, but I think I know better than that. The fabric of our delusions is thinning as we stretch it across the ailing body of our country, and so the conversations are harder, and the stakes are higher. That sounds dramatic, but, if you ask me, we’re smack dab in the middle of a pretty important dramaturgically moment in this American play. And there appears to be nothing between agreement and disagreement besides the only thing there ever has been: change.  

We just have to keep showing up.