Connecting in Death Valley
What we share as individuals and as a nation is so much more than what we don’t.
My husband and I were hiking in Death Valley the other day. Okay, it was more like a leisurely stroll than a vigorous hike. Everyone who passed us said hello. Some were Americans, some were Europeans, some were Asians. But everyone was friendly.
And it occurred to us that if we had passed the same individuals on the streets of Los Angeles, we would not have had the same experience. No one would have been so friendly. No one would have said hello. Many would not have even looked in our direction.
What’s the difference? Is it possible that all it takes is a very small, simple point of connection, that the fact that we were all hiking (yes, I’m using the term loosely – although perhaps in 92 degree weather everyone does!) in Death Valley created a commonality, a shared goal and experience. And that’s all it took?
That may be the answer. It may also be that, away from home, from work, bills and errands, from responsibilities, everyone is a little more relaxed and a little friendlier. I’m sure that’s a contributing factor. (We recently had dinner in Los Angeles with a friend from New York. “You seem different tonight,” he commented. “That’s because you usually see us on vacation and relatively stress free,” we responded. “But here on our home turf, it’s a different story.”)
But I also think that people are desperate to connect, to feel a sense of community however tenuous, to just not feel alone.
And this suggests an opportunity for all of us. If a relatively trivial shared experience like being in Death Valley at the same time can create a bond, how much more is available if we can share our hopes and dreams for our marriages, our children and the Jewish people.
It’s perhaps trite to point out how much divide there exists amongst the Jewish people, how frequently we focus on areas of dispute and disagreement.
But not only isn’t it necessary or productive, it completely misses the point. What we share as individuals and as a nation is so much more than what we don’t.
On Shavuot, we learned that the Jewish people camped against Mount Sinai in a state of completely unity, as one nation with one heart. That means it’s doable. It’s achievable.
We need to focus our energies on recapturing that togetherness. Not only did the beautiful mountains in Death Valley National Park lift me into a sense of majesty and awe, the whole experience reminded me of what’s possible. Especially if we ask the Almighty, the One who created this magnificent state park (yes, prior to Teddy Roosevelt) to help us out.