Wednesday, July 25, 2007

You Can Do Anything

Yes, this title is a cliché. But it’s also true.

Perhaps the greatest lesson the Bible has to teach comes right at the beginning. The Bible says:

“And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him” (Gen. 1:27)

It’s a great verse. But what’s the image of God?

It’s man’s ability to create and control. Man can cure disease and build cars, invent computers and fly into outer space. This creativity, according to Rabbi Joseph B. Solovietchik, is man’s way of emulating God, the ultimate creator.

Man’s almost limitless creativity is Godlike. Yes, we can do anything. Unfortunately, we don’t believe it.

We refuse to accept our true abilities. We imprison our potential, comfortably assuming that mediocrity is our lot.

We have excellent company in our search for mediocrity. Often, well meaning friends tell us how we need to be “realistic” and do less, or to stop dreaming.

I remember telling an older colleague, a successful author, how much I wanted to start writing. He immediately belittled my dreams, saying that being a rabbi was too much work on its own, and writing is a dream best put aside. As realistic as this advice was, (and yes, I am writing this late at night), I was taken aback. But I ignored his advice.

I ignored his advice because it was wrong. Now I’m all for realism, and yes, there are people without plans who imagine dreaming is all you need to succeed. But reality is that a determined human in the image of God can accomplish astonishing things.

People who have triumphed over major disabilities are remarkable examples of man in the image of God. A recent book about James Holman (1786-1857) tells one such story. Holman, blinded in his twenties, becomes a peripatetic explorer, traveling deep into Siberia and sailing around the world. In an era when blind people were considered to be virtual invalids, Holman learned how to compensate for his loss of vision through sound, cleverness and social skills. Holman compiles the first English dictionary of an African language, and even learns how to ride a horse and hunt elephants! His travelogues, built on painstaking research, were of immense scientific value. Holman, a man truly in the image of God, transcends physical limitations through sheer creativity.

Holman showed that even a blind explorer could have insightful observations. Yet even in Holman’s own life, people argued his explorations have no value because they are the observations of a blind man. In other words, the critics were saying that because Holman was blind, he could not accomplish more than what they imagined a blind man could accomplish.

Critics will always predict mediocrity. Unfortunately, we are often our own worst critic, refusing to believe in ourselves. To unleash our potential, we must silence our inner critic, and remember that we are created in the image of God and that…

We can do anything.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Love is Contagious

Aiden McGuire is a Yankee fan, and an amazing friend.

Aiden and Michael Sayre are childhood buddies. They’ve grown up together, and now in their mid-twenties, they do what people in their mid-twenties do, hanging around together, drinking beer, and rooting for the Yankees.

But it’s getting harder for Michael to follow the Yankees. Michael suffers from congenital glaucoma, a condition that at 25 has left him blind in one eye, and rapidly losing vision in the other. Until recently, Michael had never seen a live Yankee game, and with his vision rapidly disappearing, it seemed probable that he’d never have a chance to see one either.

And then in March, Aiden wrote a letter to the Yankees:

“I’d like to tell you about my best friend, Michael Sayre……Michael is a 25-year-old diehard Yankees fan. He was born with glaucoma. Recently, he lost all vision in his right eye. Right now he’s hanging on to what vision he has left in his left eye, and his doctors don’t know how long it will remain healthy….”

The Yankees gave Aiden and Michael two tickets behind home plate. Before the game they were taken on the field for batting practice, and met with future hall of famers Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens. Truly, a Yankee fan’s dream; or perhaps Michael described it best: “I was going crazy. My head was going to explode.”

Aiden and Michael’s friendship just grabs your heart and inspires you. Pirke Avot tells us an enduring friendship is based on “love independent of ulterior motives”, and Michael and Aiden share that type of friendship. It’s impossible not to be moved by Aiden’s sincere selflessness.

And that’s precisely my point:

Love is contagious.

One sincere act of selflessness can inspires a dozen others. Aiden’s letter to the Yankees inspires the Yankees, and then, (as recounted in the Syracuse Post Standard), the Yankee's involvement inspires a whole host of other organizations:

…the Yankees responded with a couple of box seats and field passes and a tour of both Monument Park and the press box. Then, American Limousine chipped in with transportation, JetBlue offered airfare, the Peninsula New York hotel delivered lodging, Majestic Athletic pitched in a jersey, Hillerich & Bradsby shipped personalized bats.

One letter starts a kindness chain reaction. Sincerity inspires others to share in the gift of friendship.

In fact, Aiden told the New York Times he was shocked by the kindness he got:

“The fact that all of these people have come together to help a person they don’t even know has left me speechless”…

But it’s not that strange: love has always been contagious. In the Book of Ruth, one woman’s kindness changes the course of history. Ruth, a foreigner and a widow, treats her mother in law Naomi with love and loyalty. Her kindness inspires Naomi's relative, Boaz, to be kind to Ruth and Naomi. Ruth and Boaz marry, and the people of Bethlehem, inspired by their kindness, celebrate with them and bless them on their wedding day. Ruth’s baby, Oved, begets Jesse, who begets David, the future King of Israel. Kindness and love literally give birth to future redemption.

Yes, kindness begets kindness which in turn, begets even more kindness. Human hearts are open, ready to catch the “love bug”.

That’s why when good people like Aiden or Ruth or Boaz or Michael tell their story, they'll all tell you the same thing:

love is contagious.