The universe works in mysterious ways.
I was moving the mouse to hit “publish” on my last post, when the phone rang. It was one of the two leaders of the P.O.W.E.R. project, whom I had lamented being unable to reach. I smiled – universe, you are bossy and unsubtle with your signs!” I paused for a moment, wondering whether I should refrain from posting what I’d written – perhaps whatever he’d say would make me erase it all. But I decided against it, determining to write a separate bit of reflection once the chat was had. I hit “publish,” then picked up the call.
We exchanged pleasantries, and I asked how it was going, tapping key members of the temple’s affinity groups to take on the task of bringing ten people to the event on April 21st on the behalf of which we’re organizing. To my surprise, he told me that many of them had said no. I don’t know why I was so shocked, but I truly was. Then he casually asked me about my efforts.
“So, how has it been going, getting your people to sign up?”
My stomach hit the floor. Could I tell him that I hadn’t reached out to anyone yet, because I’d been grappling with my own sense of connection (or lack thereof) to the event? I started talking without thinking.
“Well, not so well. At the last meeting we all said we’d reach out to our respective circles. But I don’t have a very big network here yet, since we haven’t been in Philadelphia so long. And a number of my friends are not so comfortable with faith-based activities, so I’m really just focusing on reaching out to those who are less squeamish about it.”
“I see; that makes sense.” He offered.
I hate lying – even white-lying. I especially hate lying to kind, good people. I decided to change the subject, and return to the confusing fact that people had said no to him, when asked to help us.
“So, I’m just curious – when people declined, did they say why?
“Well, our LGBTQ group felt that many of the congregations that would be present are… somewhat unwelcoming to them… so they were unsure as to whether they wanted to participate.”
“OK,” I added. He continued.
“The folks we asked at Young Friends were too busy; the other social groups were either uncomfortable, or also too busy, or out of town that weekend. So we’re just going to keep plugging away, making our phone calls.”
Feeling disappointed and disoriented by how unsuccessful this approach – which I’d thought was foolproof – had turned out to be, I focused instead on my confusion around the mention of phone calls, since it was something we’d never talked about doing. Off the cuff, I asked about it.
“May I ask why the phone calls?”
“You mean instead of emails?”
I realized suddenly that I sounded more judgmental than inquisitive. I tried to back-peddle.
“Yes. And I mean that as a genuine question, not a suggestion we do otherwise – I’m just wondering if – ”
He cut me off.
“Well, we started with an email, as you know, but the response was lukewarm.”
“And it’s easier to say no to an email. It’s harder to say no if we’re having a conversation, and really engaging around the issues.”
“That makes sense. Thank you.”
“Sure. Well, then,” he sighed, getting ready to get off the phone, “I think we’re good.”
I wasn’t so ready.
” Before you go, may I speak frankly?”
I took a deep breath. I don’t have a relationship with this man, but between his kindness, the kismet of his call appearing just as my faith was lost, and my sense of “oh, fuck it,” I decided to go for it.
“I feel like my momentum for this project has become lukewarm.”
There was a pause.
“Alright . . .”
His voice was softer, and comforted me. I continued.
“I feel like – and I don’t mean to speak ill of anyone – but I feel like my interactions with the overarching organization have been somewhat… uninspiring, we’ll say. I feel like I’m being told to do work for them, but I don’t feel connected to them, nor do I even know whether I support what they’re doing on April 21st. How can I ask people to come, and rally the troops, if I’m not sure I even feel comfortable being there?”
“Yeah; yeah . . .” he immediately replied, in a warm tone that let me know he knew what I was talking about. He went on.
“Well, I agree that the leadership approach is different than what we might be used to at Rodeph Shalom – we are used to a great deal of consensus-building and grassroots leadership, and having our voices heard constantly. This is a different model, so I can understand if we’re a little unfamiliar or uncomfortable with it. I suppose for myself, I put any discomfort I might feel aside because I know that these are causes that I want to support, and for me that is more important.”
“I guess so. I understand that. I suppose for me, I’m not sure whether I do support them. I mean, I support the areas they’re working in, but I don’t know if the initiatives we’re there to get behind I agree with. I don’t even fully know what they’re going to be demanding at this event, nor do I necessarily agree with the way it’s being done . . . ”
“Well – I suppose the way I think of it is that these are unequivocably good causes. Jobs, immigration, education – these touch us all.”
“I agree – and as topics I fully support them. It’s just the particular policies. And the methods for getting what they want. I feel like as an organization, they want power, so they’re getting us to do work for them to show that they have it. But is that what we want to spend our time doing?”
” I think they need that power, to show that a grassroots organization in the city can and should be taken seriously. And for me, that’s not a bad thing, even if I don’t agree with everything. I don’t need to agree with everything. I do know that improving jobs, education, and pathways to citizenship in this city will make it better, and in turn will make my life better in some way, too. That’s good enough for me.”
I thought this over for a moment. Then an idea came to me.
“Maybe the thing is that I need to take it less seriously.”
He was a little caught off guard.
“Well – OK. If that works for you.”
“Well, what I mean is that -” I started to explain myself, but then realized I didn’t need to. ” Nevermind. Yes. Thanks for talking and listening. I feel much better. Thank you again.”
“Thanks for talking and listening to me, too. I hope I was helpful.”
So that’s my take-away. He didn’t know what I meant, but I did: maybe this all needs to be a little less serious. Maybe I don’t need to feel like this project/event is really aligned with my spirit and soul, nor does it look the way I would have it ideally. Maybe it’s a little good, a little bad. But at the end of the day, it’s a short-term thing, I’m not hurting anyone – hopefully I’m helping in some way – and at the very least it’s an experience, and also keeps me fulfilling a promise to those in my synagogue’s group. Everything doesn’t have to be everything. Everything doesn’t have to hit all the notes. And if it happens to the best of our abilities, perhaps the lesson for me here is, that’s good enough?
Following this conversation, I decided to apply the same thinking to my Young Friends group, which is more my baby, and closer to my heart – and therefore, something that can more easily ruffle my feathers and get me out of joint.
I wrote to everyone in the group, apologizing for our disorganization, taking responsibility, and doling out tasks to be completed by Monday to different individuals. I created a budget by scanning IKEA’s website and estimating what we might need and slapping some numbers next to some bullet points. Finally, I asked a core group to assemble at my house on Sunday night for wine and planning, and braced myself for the long ensuing silence, or a bunch of wiggle-out emails from folks apologetically diving off the sides of this sinking ship.
Much to my delight, I received a reply from almost everyone saying they would get on their task, or had already done it. Our group is getting together on Sunday to finalize plans, and the number I think we need to raise is less than I’d feared (which confirms for me the idea I wrote about a few weeks ago, that the scariest things about budgets is the engorged idea – not the reality – of them).
Now that I’ve decided that everything doesn’t have to be perfect, or done early, or done in line with my deepest values and core beliefs, I feel much more relaxed (funny that, huh?!). And, ironically, it’s cleared the path to (hopefully) let things get done. . .
We shall see in the coming week – I’ll keep you posted!