Exterior of Temple Israel Long Beach


Steve Gordon

Perspective, Gratitude and the Need for a Bigger Boat

January 5, 2021

Last month, I took a detour from my regular writings about the Pandemic, and how it’s affecting our congregation in particular, and our lives in general. If you recall, I wrote about the need and the moral obligation (I didn’t use those words in my article, but I wish I had), to come together and treat each other with respect, despite differences in opinion, politically or otherwise.

This month, however, I’m back to expressing some thoughts about the Pandemic. At first, I was reluctant to do so, but given the fact it’s one of the most significant issues in the world today, not to mention our entire lifetime, I’m asking for your indulgence once more.

In case you are wondering about the title of this article, I will get to the boat part shortly. For now, I’d like to address the first two concepts. Much has been written, by me as well as others, about the difficulties we are all facing. The hardships range from boredom, isolation and loneliness, to severe financial troubles and life-threatening health concerns. Additionally, many of us are experiencing so much more in between the two extremes.

A common recommendation among mental health professionals (and those of you who are far more self-actualized than I am), is to feel genuine gratitude for the blessings in our lives. I get it, I understand it, and I agree with it. From a commonsense standpoint, appreciating what we have, and recognizing the perspective that there are others out there who are desperately trying to manage far more troubling circumstances, certainly makes sense.

Of course, as my family likes to remind me, I frequently lack basic common sense. My problem with this, is that no matter how bad someone has it, there are always people who have it worse. If I am troubled by not being able to share a meal with family and friends, do I have the right to allow that to sadden me if my neighbor lost his job six months ago, and is kept awake at night wondering how he will make his mortgage payment? And does my neighbor have the right to complain of sleepless nights if he has a colleague who died from the virus? The potential examples here are infinite.

Again, I fully acknowledge the benefit and necessity of feeling and expressing gratitude. It prevents us from wallowing in self pity and taking a “woe is me” attitude. But because there is always someone who has things worse, I am troubled by the implication that we cannot, or should not feel sadness or discomfort because of our own circumstances.

At this point, I would like to extend an apology. I’ve raised this concern, but I don’t have an answer. The only thing I can think of, is that it’s possible to do both. That is, make an effort to count our blessings, and to be truly grateful for the good things in our lives, and at the same time, it’s okay to feel sadness because things are not the way we would like them to be.

For those of you out there who might have additional insight into my dilemma, I would welcome hearing from you.

Okay, let’s talk about the boat. For all of you movie buffs, I suspect you will recognize “the need for a bigger boat,” coming from the 1975 blockbuster thriller, Jaws. When Captain Brody first saw the enormity of the shark they were hunting, he expressed his concern about the size of their boat to the others on board.

What does this have to do with anything I might be writing about? Absolutely nothing. What it does do, is provide a segue to a thought I would like to share.

As I am writing this, the Covid-19 vaccine has just been approved by the FDA, and is on its way to be delivered. We are at the very beginning stages of getting a faint glimpse of hope of resolution from the nearly ten month ordeal we have all been experiencing. But despite the crazy making and anxiety provoking uncertainty of not having a clue as to when this will end, there is another phenomenon that occurs when a resolution is in sight.

When we are in the middle of things, without knowing when normalcy will return, we settle in, live our lives the best we can, and do what we have to do, the pain and difficulties mentioned above, notwithstanding. But when we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel (and hope it’s not a train), the anxiety can actually increase. Resolution is there, just out of reach, but we can see it, feel it, and taste it. And as it gets closer, the ache we feel for this madness to end, becomes even stronger.

I call this the “Jaws Effect.” During a calm evening on the boat, Quint (the shark hunter), was sharing a story with Captain Brody and Hooper. He recalled how during the war, he was on the ship that was delivering the atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan. After they made the delivery, the ship was heading back home when it was struck by a torpedo and sunk. Because of the secrecy of their mission, hundreds of sailors remained floating in the ocean with life preservers for weeks until a rescue ship finally found them. Quint spoke of the many friends who were killed by sharks during that period of time. But it wasn’t until he was waiting for his turn to climb up the ladder of the rescue ship, that Quint felt the most fear. During the previous two weeks, he bobbed around in the water, accepting his fate. But with rescue so close, and just out of reach, he could see it, feel it and taste it.

The vaccine has been approved, and it’s on its way. My hope is that we can stay strong, continue to be vigilant in our mask wearing and distancing protocols, and remain sane while waiting for our literal shot in the arm.

With 2020 now behind us, I’m looking forward to when it’s a distant memory, for our children and grandchildren to be reading about in their history books.

Wishing you all a very happy, safe and healthy new year.