Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Overcoming Life's Disappointments (Harold S. Kushner)

The Wisconsin Book Festival, an annual free event every October, took place a few weeks ago. Madison is a city full of readers, and the festival takes over downtown over the course of 5 days with many venues.

The Sunday of the festival there were two sessions that I wanted to attend, but the timing on them was pretty bad. One went from 4 to 5:30 and the other from 6 to 7:30. For any normal person who does not have the tendency to cry when they get too hungry or who does not go to bed at 9 so they can go to the gym at 5:30 in the morning, this would not be a problem. For us, however, this was monumental. The only way we were going to get to eat dinner that evening at a reasonable hour was for me to make a decision: Which should we attend? I ended up choosing the first session, Rabbi Harold Kushner discussing his book Overcoming Life's Disappointments. Like the Dalai Lama, Rabbi Harold Kushner gets quoted a lot in Body + Soul magazine, and I've had a couple of his books on my list to read. So we headed downtown, got to the Orpheum Theatre for the reading, and there were signs on the doors: Kushner's reading has been canceled. Due to bad weather in Boston, he couldn't make it. Jokingly, I said to Jim, "Well, if I had already read his book, then I would know how to overcome this disappointment." (It turned out to work out fine. I got to go to the other session I wanted to, but I'll talk more about that one in future reviews.)

Being neither Jewish nor particularly religious, I didn't really know the story of Moses (or really any Biblical stories beyond that whole Jonah and the whale thing). But Kushner uses Moses's story fairly seamlessly as the basis for his book about handling life when life is not what you expect. Even more, Kushner also quotes Buddha scholars, therapists, movies, and other popular culture references that I found quite surprising. It's a really nice read and helps to remind you about what is good in people and how you can continue to be a good person to others (keep your promises! Kushner's really big on that one). I read the book not really having any large disappointments to overcome at the time (or now for that matter), but still felt like I got a lot out of the experience. It made me thankful for all I have and it made me feel more conscientious of how I treat others. I think I was an especially kind and helpful person to everyone I met for at least a week after I finished it. (This is not saying that I am not kind in everyday life, but that week I was the person who would REALLY go out of my way for you. Like when I offered to take a man's luggage through the turnstiles at the CTA station in Chicago, and then was fairly surprised when he agreed by giving me the piece of luggage that was almost half my size.) I'll definitely read more of Kushner's work.

1 comment:

Maewen Archer said...

I cry when I get hungry too.