What words could I possibly share tonight?
This Friday night – a night on which we should be celebrating the lighting of the 7th Chanukah candle along with our Shabbat candles…a night on which we should be singing the songs of Shabbat and Chanukah…a night that is supposed to be filled with joy. Tonight, however, we are in shock. Another shooting. A school shooting. Kindergartners. Their teachers. 20 children. 6 adults. Horrific. Senseless. What is there to say on this night filled with with candles – but this night that is so dark?
I wanted to capture the innocence that filled that kindergarten classroom right before the nightmare began. I wanted to capture the beautiful wisdom of the teachers and the incredible curiousity of the students – all of them loving and living and learning. Immediately, the words of Robert Fulgham – the author of Everything I Learned, I Learned in Kindergarten – words shared at a recent bat mitzvah at Ramat Shalom – came to my mind. Mr. Fulgham’s words capture the magic that was going on in that classroom earlier today – a moment that was destroyed. We now have an obligation to live the magic – the moment that was destroyed – the lessons the little ones learned from their teachers, but now, can’t live:
All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do
and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not
at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the
sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play
and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody
really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even
the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die.
So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books
and the first word you learned – the biggest
word of all – LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation.
Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any of those items and extrapolate it into
sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your
family life or your work or your government or
your world and it holds true and clear and firm.
Think what a better world it would be if
all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about
three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with
our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments
had a basic policy to always put thing back where
they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it is still true, no matter how old you
are – when you go out into the world, it is best
to hold hands and stick together.
Centuries earlier, Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav wrote words that teach a similar lesson to that taught by Mr. Fulgham. Rabbi Nachman taught:
Kol Ha-Olam Kulo Gesher Tzar Me’od
V’ha-Ikar, Lo Lefached K’lal
The whole world is a very narrow bridge;
The essential thing is to have no fear at all.
For many years, I struggled with the meaning of these words. How can we have no fear if we have to cross a very narrow bridge!? It was a kindergartner who shed light on the deeper meaning of Rabbi Nachman’s teaching – explaining to me (after we sang Rabbi Nachman’s words in Hebrew and read them in English) that he gets it! “If the whole world is a scary, narrow bridge we just have to hold hands and cross slowly, one person at a time. That way we will all get to other side safe and we don’t have to be scared.” That kindergartner gave me a lesson I am drawing on tonight. As we cross this very scary, narrow bridge that has suddenly appeared before us today, we are scared. But, we have no choice but to cross it. And we will do it by holding hands, sticking together and crossing slowly, one person at a time until we all get to the other side.
G-d, bless the souls of the children and the teachers who were taken from us today. Heal those who were wounded. Shelter the parents of the children in the wings of your protection. Comfort the family and friends of all those who were killed. And help us all find the strength to hold hands and cross the very narrow bridge.