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Renewed Hope from Small-Town America

May 31, 2018 | by Emuna Braverman

This past week reminded me that people can, in fact, be good.

I spent the week in a small town in Pennsylvania and you know what happened? Nothing!

No one cut me off in traffic. No one cut across four lanes to make a left turn. No one ran a stop sign or red light or almost hit me as I was taking a walk because they weren't looking. No one honked. It was quiet.

There were your typical strip malls but also green grass and trees and even horses. It was bucolic (and I don't get to use that word very often!). Most homes have a one-car driveway and the neighbors have worked out an informal system of assigning parking places in front of their homes to avoid conflict. Everyone's lawn is neatly mowed and the townspeople seem very friendly.

I know it's not perfect - the same opioid epidemic that is ripping through the country occurs there also. I'm sure there is petty crime - and others of a more serious nature. But it's definitely a slower pace than the big cities. It's definitely a calmer lifestyle.

And in a strange way it gave me hope. Because although I believe that the world can be better, although I believe in people's ability to grow and change, to do good and be good, that belief is frequently tested. Daily life with its stresses and challenges makes us wonder about the true probability of this vision of ours ever coming to fruition. Amidst the road rage and the selfishness, the pushing and the shoving, the impatience and the rudeness, we can be forgiven for sometimes despairing of humanity.

Not only is it a fundamental tenet of our faith to continue to hope and believe in a better future, but the Almighty kindly gives us little tastes along the way of what's possible. Maybe it's just all the people who held the door for me and wished me a good day. Maybe it's my daughter's neighbors who took my grandchildren over to play for a week after my daughter gave birth. Maybe it's the women who flocked to a shiva house to comfort a grieving friend. Maybe it's the stranger who helped a poor woman pay for her groceries. Maybe it's that phone call just checking in when we were feeling a little lonely and blue.

We all need reminders. We all need encouragement. We all need to be reconnected to the vision of what could be. It's too easy to get pulled down and get discouraged. It's too easy to lose hope, to give up, to focus on the negative.

So God sends us messages and messengers to keep us on track, to lift us out of our despair, to move us forward with joy.

I don't want to live in small-town America. The Jewish life and infrastructure is much more limited and the opportunities more constricted. But for this past week it was a good lesson, a chance to regroup and refocus. I wasn't expecting it but it renewed my hope and vision.

And the next time that driver behind me blasts his horn the second the light turns green (if not before), I'm going to quietly tell myself , "It doesn't have to be this way," and "It won't always."


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