I have experienced much grief over the last week, as I know so many of us have. There have been other emotions, too—anger at the horrific acts of violence and terrorism, heartbreak for the lives that ended too soon, and fear about what the future holds.
What has stayed, though, is grief. Grief for those in unimaginable pain. Grief for those who have lost children, parents, partners, and neighbors.
Grief is profound and powerful, and it can seize you entirely, leaving you gasping for air. It has the uncanny ability to halt us in our tracks, reshaping the very landscape of our lives, both in an instant and over long stretches of time.
What I also know to be true about grief is that it is always in direct proportion to how powerfully we love. It is a testament to the immense love we have for our families, our friends, and our communities. For humankind.
Grief strips everything away, leaving us with only what is essential. It teaches us that we can love even when our hearts are broken, that we can be filled with gratitude, and that we can still be hopeful for and participate in creating a better future while simultaneously honoring and experiencing our deepest feelings of loss.
We’re living in a time in which the world feels unsafe and divided—we are witnessing unimaginable atrocities on a daily basis. It might be a new idea to some that the health of a nation truly relies on the health of its people, but this is an ancient principle confirmed by sociological and anthropological studies. The human race has survived, thrived, and evolved solely because of the way humans—even ancient ones—cared for each other. Especially those in need.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked what she considered to be the first evidence of human civilization. While many thought she would cite the evidence of tools, remains of religious artifacts or practices, or even signs of self-governance, her answer was nothing of the sort. Mead said the first evidence of civilization was a human thigh bone with a healed fracture found at a 15,000-year-old archaeological site.
A broken bone that healed? What does that have to do with civilization?
Mead continued, saying that for a primitive person to survive a broken femur bone, they would have had to have been cared for over a long period for the bone to heal fully. This means that others must have provided shelter, protection, food, and drink over an extended period of time for this kind of healing to be possible. Thus, Mead, one of the most notable anthropologists in history, declared that the first indication of human civilization is “care over time.” And care not just for anyone but for one who is broken and in need, for the weakest among us—as evidenced by that fractured thigh bone that healed.
We can no longer only think about ourselves or our families because we simply cannot.
We are only as strong as the weakest among us. We are only as healthy as the sickest among us. And by caring for those in need, we strengthen ourselves in the process. The teachings of Kabbalah share that there is no separation on a spiritual level between people. We are all innately and energetically connected. The idea of separateness comes from the ego. In Kabbalah, ego is explained as the desire to receive for the self alone. We break this negative cycle whenever we choose to share, love, give, and offer kindness in radical ways, especially when it is most difficult.
Care for each other.
Care even when you don’t want to, offer it when you resist it or are even afraid of giving it. Care for those you judge as undeserving, care for those you love, and care for everyone every time you have the opportunity to do so. It doesn’t just make us kind or generous—it makes us civilized.
As we navigate this uncertain time, I invite you to lean even deeper into your humanity. Notice how each day you are given opportunities to care for others and notice how often you shy away from that chance. Let us all ask ourselves how we can offer and share even more. How can we allow this time to redefine how we relate to each other? What can this experience teach us? What ways of being can we leave behind, and what new ways of relating can we take with us?
That’s the kind of world I want to live in.