“Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” by Kathy Fish
A group of grandmothers is a tapestry. A group of toddlers, a jubilance (see also: abewailing). A group of librarians is an enlightenment. A group of visual artists is a bioluminescence. A group of short story writers is a Flannery. A group of musicians is — a band.
A resplendence of poets.
A beacon of scientists.
A raft of social workers.
A group of first responders is a valiance. A group of peaceful protestors is a dream. A group of special education teachers is a transcendence. A group of neonatal ICU nurses is a divinity. A group of hospice workers, a grace.
Humans in the wild, gathered and feeling good, previously an exhilaration, now: a target.
A target of concert-goers.
A target of movie-goers.
A target of dancers.
A group of schoolchildren is a target.
Politicians have made “thoughts and prayers” offensive. I want to reclaim them. Politicians have somehow made “thoughts and prayers” a slogan for neglect. I want to take them back and protect them from unfeeling people who pose as leaders and give religion a bad name. As someone who is both a giver and a receiver of “thoughts and prayers,” I’d like to clarify how they can be powerful or meaningless.
When someone says with all sincerity, “I am keeping you in my prayers” a bit of the burden is shared. When someone says sincerely, “I think of you all the time,” a bit of the loneliness melts away. However, when thoughts and prayers are matched with deeds, real impact is secured for both the giver and the receiver. This is the experience on the human plane. And what about on the Divine plane?
Our Sages teach that in order for God to make room for the universe and for free will to be gifted to humanity, The Holy One contracted, as it were. Further, in order for human beings to express their free will, to discover and destroy, to create and brutalize, God ties God’s own hands, as it were, because the world and all it contains are our responsibility. Further still, our Sages imagine that when someone rejects the facts that every human being is created in the image of God, and therefore is of equal worth, God weeps, as it were. To allow for schoolchildren to be gunned down and change nothing is an affront to God.
God commands: “Do not remain indifferent.” (Exodus 22:3) “Do not stand idly by while your neighbour bleeds.” (Leviticus 19:6) God explains the way of the world: “See, I place before you life and death, blessing and curse.” And then God of All Life pleads: “Choose life, so that you and your children might live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) And through the mouth of the Prophet Isaiah God insists: “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I will not listen while your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean. Get your sins out of My sight. Give up your evil ways. (Isaiah 1:15-16)
Today, rabbis, ministers, and imams seek words of prayer, but come up short. Today, parents and teachers, grandparents and friends, search for words of comfort, but come up empty. The only thing that will bring help today is change.
How will we know when “thoughts” are worthy and “prayers” have been answered? When greed is replaced with admissions of guilt, when stubborn hearts soften, and complacency gives way to action. That’s how we’ll know. May they come speedily.