Every soul is precious and has a story that deserves to be told. As the authors of our lives, we can choose to tell of the horrors that afflict us, of the ways that others have crushed us, and the personal failings that haunt us; OR we can give credit to the bystander who watched over us, to the friends and family and mentors who guided us, and to the beauty within us. We make this choice every day, multiple times a day.
We make the same choice when we read–words, images, gestures, videos. We see it all; what we read, though, is up to us. We choose the vantage point, the frame of reference. We rewrite the text to show us what we most see, sense, and seize upon.
I believe the rabbinic and religious way of reading teaches us to read care-fully. We “leave no stone unturned” to borrow from Euripides. Each detail in a story presents itself as the basis, and more to the point, the cause for midrash (the “searched out” story). The surface presentation is just that: the surface. To know the story is to see the searched out perspectives, backstories, tangents, and sequels. To be sure, one can go deeper still, yet the obligation a story introduces is to search it out.
Like many, I am still reading the story of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Like many, I am desirous of an explanation–a tight story that frames the history in devices like protagonist, antagonist, motive, plot, climax, denouement. Like a few, I know my role is to move past that desire and to sit anxiously in the middle of the story and to search.
On campus, I have talked with many students about their feelings and experiences in the wake of the events of yesterday afternoon. In all, I have been struck by students’ articulation of the notion that so many stories can be told. They are searching for the story that will be their story, their version. That’s when I teach them about reading with intention.
The reading I recommend time and again: Mr. Rogers’s reading, “Look for the helpers.”We can choose to focus on the perpetrators. We can choose to focus on the trauma. We can choose to focus on the helpers. None should be ignored; all have meaning and stories of their own; only one will be the story we tell years from now. I choose the helpers; it’s my Jewish reading. May the perpetrators be brought to justice; may the memory of those who die be a blessing to us; may the survivors live to love again; and may we talk most about the helpers.