You may remember the NPR audio series called This I Believe that aired a decade ago. They were short, personal essays written by various guests about a core conviction borne from an impactful life experience. I will never forget one called, “Always Go to the Funeral.” In it, the author recalled how her father insisted on taking her to funerals throughout her childhood but that what he really meant to teach her was how to show up for things even when she didn’t want to and how to show up for people even when it’s hard.
When I became a rabbi, I signed up for a life of showing up and I can’t think of any more meaningful way to spend my time, even when it’s hard, even when I’m out of gas and don’t think there’s anything left in the tank. Showing up to all of that is both the greatest joy and greatest challenge of my rabbinate because it often isn’t possible to be everywhere I’d like to be and it’s not always clear where I truly need to be. Oftentimes, I am pulled in the direction of urgent matters only to run short of time for the ordinary, but sweet moments of people’s lives as much as I’d like.
Every once in a while, however, the waters part in my otherwise chaotic calendar. In June, after years of friendly invitations, I was finally able to show up at a book share at Pisgah View HeadStart where temple members Marty and Kathryn Mann and Jim Theobald volunteer as members of the Tikkun Olam committee. Every other High Holiday season, Marty invites our congregation to donate children’s books that he distributes to kids who don’t have the resources to enjoy reading in their homes. Each comes with a sticker that says that the book is a gift from their friends at Congregation Beth HaTephila. It’s a beautiful Temple project, but until I showed up, I didn’t realize just how moved I’d be.
I was greeted at the door lovingly by Lorraine, the supervisor of the program. I knew immediately from her smile that these kids were lucky to spend each weekday welcomed by her warmth. As I proceeded into the building, I was introduced in each classroom filled with children, dressed in their best, playing with toys, learning to share and do puzzles and build with blocks. After the tour, a display of books was set up in the common area. Marty took small groups of children one after the other and invited them to choose one book to take home with them. You can imagine how precious the expressions on their excited faces were.
The book share is a special event at Pisgah View HeadStart. But what is truly remarkable is that the kids there know they can count on Mr. and Mrs. Mann and Mr. Theobald. They come to visit them every week. They are a presence in their lives. And they make a difference.
This I believe: each of us has a circle of people we make a habit of showing up for: our partners, our parents, our children, our pets. But life is always beckoning us to stretch and show up for a child, for a sick friend, for a stranger. The only question is, will we?