These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Heavy Boots

Posted on November 21, 2012 by Lauren Schuchart

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Originally posted on my blog:

“We need enormous pockets, pockets big enough for our families and our friends, and even the people who aren’t on our lists, people we’ve never met but still want to protect. We need pockets for boroughs and for cities, a pocket that could hold the universe.”

-Jonathan Safran Foer,
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

In one of my favorite books, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the main character, a 9-year old boy, talks about how he becomes overwhelmed with the state of the world. He calls this having “heavy boots.”

“Seeing homeless people gives me heavy boots.”

“Hearing that my best friend’s grandma had died gave me heavy boots.”

This metaphor has always resonated with me, because I can easily feel overwhelmed with the pain and suffering in this world.

Today, I have particularly heavy boots.

The past week has brought a lot of destruction, in all senses of the word, to southern Israel and Gaza. There are constant air raid sirens and bombs falling in the south, thousands of soldiers being called in from the reserves, casualties on both sides of the border. Today, there was a bus explosion in Tel Aviv, wounding 21 people.

When we heard news of the bus explosion, we also heard that there were celebrations in the West Bank and Gaza. To be clear: Hamas was celebrating the deaths of innocent civilians; rejoicing in the fact that they “successfully” carried out a terror attack. This is nothing surprising, or new.

These same terrorists are jeopardizing the lives of their own people, placing their rockets and weapons in playgrounds, schools, mosques, etc., making it nearly impossible for Israel to avoid civilian casualties. They are not protecting their innocent, but rather, exploiting them.

During college, I participated in a unique and transformative initiative called the Race Relations Project (now the World in Conversation Project). The purpose of the project is to “facilitate radically open dialogues that expand perspectives and invite greater understanding between people locally and globally.”

I look back on this project and consider it one of the most important things in which I’ve participated. Why? It opened me up to different people, different perspectives, different narratives. It taught me how to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and to walk through the world with empathy and compassion.

It gave me the ability to see someone radically different from me, and say, “I might not agree with you, but I understand why you might feel/act the way that you do.” I’ve worked at cultivating an attitude that rejects the “Us Vs. Them” mentality. I’ve tried to live with my heart directed towards compassion and understanding, rather than fear and hatred.

But today, as I sit here in my apartment in Jerusalem, Israel, I’m at a loss for understanding. My sense of compassion is wavering. I have never felt so “Us Vs. Them.”

I have heavy boots.

How do you try and create peace with people who have a completely different narrative from you? There is no starting point. And how do you pursue peace in a place where peace feels so far away? There is no hope for a resolution. How do you seek to understand someone that wants to kill you, and bring about the destruction of your people?

I’m finding it incredibly difficult to hold all of these thoughts in my head and heart at one time. But I’m trying, because I can’t think of any other way to live.

As I finish writing this, Israel and Gaza declared a cease-fire. May it bring continued quiet, alleviation of suffering, and lighter boots for all of us.