Israel-Finding Meaning in Hard Times

If I hadn’t had my accident in Israel, I would have never met the Muslim man who directed me to a deeper understanding of Judaism.

I met him in Syracuse, New York and because of my injuries he knew I had gone to Israel. I sensed that he was a traveler, too, and asked where he was from. He replied, “Persia”. I knew he meant Iran and I quickly told him what I believed to put him at ease. I told him that I traveled to learn about all religions, that I believed in inclusion and in the fact that we all share a common destiny. I asked him about his faith and he told me he was Muslim.

It turns out that the my new acquaintance was also on a quest to understand and showed me that he had downloaded the audio version of The World’s Religions by Huston Smith. That evening I ordered a copy of this book and when it arrived I immediately read the chapter on Judaism.

Picture courtesy of Syracuse University

The Jewish people have endured a long history of exile, discrimination, persecution, and even extermination. But through it all, as Huston Smith points out, the underlying power of Jewish survival has been its people’s search for meaning. Meaning found in God, history, morality, justice and most of of all suffering.

After my visit to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland, I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, who was a prisoner at that death camp. I thought of him while I have been recovering.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

He has became a widely quoted existential author stating that life has no purpose and it is our responsibility to create purpose for ourselves. Every moment and experience, good or bad, helps us define that meaning.

He offered us a formula-

In my travels in Israel, I found cultural power. I found a country of problem solvers strengthen by a tradition of never giving up. I found myself inspired by this. I chose to find meaning in my mishap. The whole experience has given me a deeper understanding of the Jewish spirit and since I have been home has given me the opportunity and time to reflect even further. But the greatest gift has been a renewed confidence that allows me to declare, “Bring it on world! I’m going to be okay.”

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how’.” Viktor Frankl

Copyright 2019@ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

How to Be an Explorer of the World

“It worries me greatly that today’s children can recognize 100 corporate logos and fewer than ten plants.” -Robin Wall Kimmerer

I found this great book in a thrift shop. I loved the title and was intrigued by its unconventional format. The author, Keri Smith, calls herself a “guerilla” author, priding herself on creative ways to present books and deliver her message.

Someone on Amazon wrote a review saying they hated this book, declaring that it looked like a five year old wrote it. However, most reviewers loved it and so did I . With no rules or expectations she invites readers to go out and experience the raw world, reality without a screen or someone else’s interpretation.

I’m a retired teacher and a grandmother. It was very natural for me to bring this book when I visited my class of three grandchildren. We went through some of it but it was not the book’s purpose to be merely looked at. It was a springboard for action.

The second day of my visit was coincidently a day for my grandson, a five year old , and I to spend some time alone together. With a plastic bag, a camera and no expectations we set out for a walk in the neighborhood around Syracuse University to see what we could see.

Street Artifacts

The book encouraged us to look for faces. We found one.

We stopped to see the progress on the house we liked that had a part of its wall made of glass bricks. The people who lived there were always making improvements and we enjoyed noting the changes.

I did a little teaching, pointing out the ionic style columns on this house

We found a lot of great art.

And some interesting things that could inspire art.

Connor found a simile. “The white garbage bags look like little snowmen.”

We solved a mystery as we tried to guess what we were seeing across the street (first picture) and discovered what it was with a closer look (second picture).

We saw a lot of examples of people trying to communicate with printed words.

A construction crew caught our attention.

We found a prompt for a story. What happened here?

At the beginning of our walk, I told Connor about my goal to someday make it up these steps without stopping.

On the way back to Connor’s house, I said I would try doing thirty steps. Five year old Connor bounded up this hill encouraging me to keep going. I made it to the top, stopping three times for about 30 seconds to catch my breath but I made it. Connor inspired this teacher grandmother to achieve something she didn’t think she could do. For me, it was the greatest lesson I had learned in a long time.

I encourage my teacher, parent, and grandparent friends to look into other books by Keri Smith, The Imaginary World of (your name here), This is Not a Book, F nish Th s B k, Pocket Scavenger, Wreck This Journal, The Line, and Guerilla Art Kit.

I soon learned that what Connor and I did during our day together was just not kids’ stuff. Wandering around (exploring?) in a bookstore recently I found an article in the August 16-23 2019 issue of “Newsweek” called “The Pathway to Innovation”. In the article, Rob Walker states “noticing things that everyone takes for granted-and that could be improved, amplified, repurposed or replaced-is often the first step to innovation.” He uses the example of the creation of Velcro that came about when the inventor was on a walk and found the hooks of burdocks attaching to the loops in the fabric of his socks. Mr. Walker has written a book for adults, The Art of Noticing. Like Ms. Smith’s book it suggests many activities that will get adults away from the screen and out into the real world.

Copyright 2019 @The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.