On Wednesday, I waited most of the day while my husband had surgery on his spine at Beth Israel in Manhattan. I knew it would come out well. He had a brilliant surgeon, a member of the renowned Spine Institute of New York, who assured us that he had done this particular procedure about eight hundred times before and nothing had every gone wrong. Still, as the operation crept towards the six hour mark (I had been told it would probably last three or four) I got to revisit that strange land of waiting and not knowing that has a way of stripping away all our comforting illusions.
I remembered other times I’ve waited for a far less certain outcomes, how the inner guard dogs of instinct can start to stir from their slumber–and then give way to glimpse of our real situation here: We don’t get to write the story. A special kind of awareness can spring up in times of uncertainty, in those moments when our usual narrative gets suspended. I realized that this quality–a surrendered receptivity, a broken-open patience (how about, a beaten-to-a-pulp, crying-uncle attentiveness? too much?) comes up in myriad ways in the new “Justice” issue of Parabola.
Of course, I’m biased but there is so much worth reflecting on in this issue. Not the least, a moving reflection on Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch Jewish woman who left behind a diary and letters before she perished in Auschwitz at the age of thirty. The author of the essay, Joyce Kornblatt, illuminates Hillesum’s “Bodhisattva spirit,” her realization of an extraordinary compassion for others in the face of darkness. There is also an interview (mine) with Damien Echols, who lives in solitary confinement in a “supermax” prison facility in Arkansas. Young Echols, who is facing a death sentence for a crime that reliable new evidence indicates he did not commit, described to me how he lives fully–ferociously”–every day. Anger and bitterness are the worst prison, he told me. How do we live with injustice? How do we live rich lives even in the face of unimaginably harsh conditions? What Hillesum and Echols (and Steinsalz) have to say has particular resonance in these dark times. Read “Justice.”