Back in the day, I was part of a small advanced team that began the turn-over process for a fleet ballistic missile submarine as one crew relieved another crew. Our small team from the Gold Crew rode a tug into outer Apra Harbor, Guam, where we transferred to the submarine and were taken down the hatch. As soon as we were below, we instantly knew something was wrong. We had descended from the clear Pacific island breezes into the “locker room from hell.” It was though the fragrance from every high school football locker room had been concentrated in the confined space of a submarine. While you might think that description is exaggerated or part of a “sea story,” let me just say, the locker room analogy was kind compared to actual ambiance.
The amazing thing was that the Blue Crew could not smell a thing. It all seemed normal to them. What had happened was (somehow!) they had gone on patrol for 2 months without filling the huge ventilation room with the hundreds of charcoal bags used to absorb smells, aroma, and all the rest from the closed atmosphere of a submerged submarine. The ambiance had just slowly built during their 90-day patrol. They didn’t notice a thing. They adapted to the foulest of conditions.
All of this prompts me to think about our human adaptivity to environments, especially ones in which the common good is eroding. Maybe it is from the headlines of the newspaper, but maybe it is in the everyday of life. For example, we’ve grown accustomed to public school teachers spending significant sums of their own money to buy classroom supplies, because we’ve underfunded the proposition that a quality education is a right for every kid in the country.
I worry that we are growing accustomed to the horrible headlines of racism, war, and needless death. On June 12th last year, 49 people were gunned down in Orlando. 477 days later 58 people were killed in Las Vegas. In between 414 people have been killed in other mass shootings. Have we grown used to zero action from Congress? We have grown used to smile knowingly at the thought of bipartisanship from our political leaders. We’ve grown used to the idea that malnourished kids cry themselves to sleep in the richest country in the world. Similar stories of adjustment to slowly deteriorating conditions could be told with respect to violence as entertainment, limited health care for the poor and elderly, the diminishment of valuing life from conception until natural death, and countless other issues that make us wonder about the unconverted world we live in. Are we growing accustomed to the world as it is becoming?
As Emily Dickinson wrote, “We grow accustomed to the Dark – When Light is put away.”
And then we see that one person can return the Light. Derek Black is the son of Don Black, the brains behind Stormfront, a major white nationalist website. His mother, Chloe, had been married to David Duke, who is Derek’s godfather. Some white nationalists considered Derek the heir to leadership of the white nationalist movement as he had been active in the movement for 15 of his (then) 24 years. After Derek was outed as an anti-Semite on his college campus, Matthew Stevenson, the only Orthodox Jew on campus, invited Derek to a Shabbat meal. Derek then became a regular at Shabbat meals and eventually renounced white nationalist ideas.
Be the Light for your family, your friends, for the one you do not yet know. Become accustomed to bearing the Light.