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The Casablanca Perspective

February 2, 2014 | by Emuna Braverman

Looking at life in the grand scheme of things.

“The problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this world.”

All classic movie fans will recognize Humphrey Bogart’s line in Casablanca. The movie has been lauded for many things but never, perhaps, for the deep Jewish idea expressed here.

It’s another way of describing a type of awe – of saying that, in the grand scheme of history spanning thousands of years, in the vastness of the universe covering thousands of miles, our issues of the moment are insignificant and irrelevant.

We are so caught up in our pain and challenges of the here and now and yet, in terms of the eternal life of the Jewish people, it is barely a blip. This is a great strategy for regaining perspective – for not sweating the small stuff, and sometimes the big stuff too.

Important caveat: This is an extremely useful tool to use personally. It is NOT what we tell someone else who is going through a difficult time. For them we should be all compassion and kindness.

Recognizing our relative insignificance isn’t easy. We have an ego that heartily protests this idea. We are busy doing and accomplishing and it all seems so important. (Doesn’t every generation think that they are the ones that really shaped the world?)

I am blessed to live near the ocean. And the ocean is a reality check. It overwhelms and overpowers. It is beautiful and magnificent and seemingly endless…It is ever-changing – calm and violent, loud and silent, with variant shades of blue and green.

The ocean is awe-inspiring and it provides real perspective. It re-orients our focus. It lifts us out of our anxiety and concerns and even some really painful problems.

I realize not everyone lives by the ocean, but there is natural beauty everywhere. There are mountains and lakes and forests. There are deserts and valleys and glens (sounds like a cue in to This Land is Your Land).

But they aren’t just beautiful, they are an opportunity – to embrace something larger than me, something transcendent, something meaningful and eternal and everlasting. It‘s a chance to remember that the world is not about me and to set my challenges in context.

Last week we took a family vacation to Kauai. My husband and I watched the sun rise on the beach every morning and marveled at the sense of hope it carried with it. Our difficulties receded. Our challenges subsided. It was an amazing gift and a powerful lesson. I need to hang on to those moments.

The minute we stepped off the plane, it all came flooding back – with a vengeance. But when things seem bleak, I take out my camera and I look at those images and I remember that it’s all temporary, that it will ultimately all be washed away in those waves, that the eternal reality is the only one that really counts.


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