A Thanksgiving Reflection
In a time of war, terrorism and rampant human rights abuses, why is there still reason for hope?
Reading the news today has been particularly disheartening: the continuous impasse between Israelis and Palestinians, with no hint of an effective rapprochement between them. And the sustained violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, countries whose sores never heal.
Bombs planted in Baghdad in 12 cars and detonated by remote control killed 122 people and hurt 360, throwing Iraqis into further desperation.
"No one knows who is who. Nobody knows when something will happen. Bombing after bombing. Killing after killing. It is a mess," an Iraqi man was quoted, with desperation in his voice.
A few days later, a bomb in a Pakistani mosque killed 66 people and wounded more than 80. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber and may have been aimed at village elders who had formed a militia to resist incursions by the Taliban. Life has become a cheap commodity.
When I want to forget about these events, I take the subway — and after almost an hour I am in another world. One of my favorite places is Brighton Beach, a community in Coney Island in the borough of Brooklyn, a subway ride away from Manhattan.
In summer, I go to the boardwalk, sit in front of the sea and allow the salt breeze to energize me. When it gets colder, I then visit one of the plentiful ethnic stores and delight in their variety. When my appetite is in full force, I go to one of the many restaurants in the area to savor food unlike what I eat at home every day.
The area is populated mainly by Jewish immigrants who left the former Soviet Union starting in the 1970s and whose influx continues today. Years ago, the area was dubbed "Little Odessa," since many of its residents came from Odessa, a city in the Ukraine. I remember the welcome surprise of a friend — with whom I was having dinner at one of the local Russian restaurants — when he realized how many patrons came from his parents' hometown.
More recently, new waves of immigrants have joined the Russians: Chinese, Vietnamese, Armenian, Turkish, Mexican and Pakistanis make this an even more cosmopolitan neighborhood. During the summer, they come in throngs to enjoy the beach.
On a recent day, I sat by the sea in Brighton Beach. It was a relatively cold day, so there were few people around. A young woman came with her child and sat next to me. The child was sent to play in the sand. By the occasional remarks the woman made to him, I took her to be of Russian origin.
The child happily played with a ball. Suddenly he left the ball. Seeing a line of giant ants moving along the sand, he took a couple of them and crushed them with one hand.
Putting her knitting aside, his mother beckoned him, put her hand on his shoulder and in heavily accented English quietly but firmly said, "Don't do that. You don't hurt nobody. Do you hear me? You don't hurt nobody." The child looked at her with a mixture of fear and surprise and slowly dropped the ants on the sand.
The incident taught me, quite unexpectedly, that some of life’s most simple and yet most profound lessons can be learned at a very young age. And it gave me reason for hope.