The Heart is the Substance

By Donna Jacobs Sife

Rumi has said that “the heart is the substance, and the world the accident.”

Recently I was asked to tell stories at a function for the Anti-discrimination board. The function coincided with an important date on the jewish calender. It was TishaB’Av - a strange day on which many disasters occured for the Jews over the centuries. On that day jews were expelled from England. On that same day decades later Jews were expelled from France, and then again from Spain. But most significant thing is that on Tisha b’aV, ninth of Av, both the first and the second temples were destroyed in Jerusalem hundreds of years apart. It is said that the second temple was destroyed because of senseless hatred.

I decided to draw on the fact that it was TishaB’Av and tell a story about senseless hatred. After all this was the Anti-discrimination board and what could be more senseless than discrimination, whether it is based on gender, age, race, religion, colour...... it was all senseless hatred. So I told a story that my friend Gill Destanfano told me once -

Two ferrymen worked side by side on a river. They were not exactly friends, but they were civil with eachother. One day one of the ferrymen said to a passanger “You chose the right ferry lady, that other one is barely sea worthy.” One of the passengers overheard and repeated the comment to the other ferryman. He was furious, and one night soon afterwards, he sneaked onto the other man’s ferry and released about twenty rats that he had carefully trapped for the purpose. There was pandamonium the next day, people even jumping into the water and swimming ashore. I think if I had been on a boat with twenty rats, I would have chosen that option.! In retaliation that ferry man got a pick and smashed a hole in the side of his competitor’s hull, causing it to take in water and costing a great deal to repair. Well, you can imagine. Things went from bad to worse. The ferrymen shouted and cursed at eachother from across the river. They invented catapults and projectiles to shoot at other as they passed. It was a dreadful stiuation.

One day an angel descended and visited one of the ferry men. He told the man that God was deeply disturbed by the growing antagonism, and would like to help. The angel told the ferry man that God is offering to grant one wish, in the name of peace. “I could wish to be the greatest ferryman in the country, that would get rid of him” thought the ferryman. “I could wish to be the richest man in the country, then |I wouldnt have to worry about that creep” he thought. And then the angel added, “one last thing” he said, “anything you wish for .... will be granted doubly to your fellow ferry man.”

Well that changed things a lot....... if he wished for success the other guy would be doubly successful. If he wished for money he would be doubly rich. He thought for a long time. Then he began to smile slowly, and with his eyes twinkling, he looked at the angel. “I’ve got it!” he said. “I wish .....to be......blind in one eye!”

Senseless hatred.

What I like about the legend concerning the temple, is that it is written that the third temple, when it is built, will come into being because of senseless love. And so I started to look for a story about senseless love for this function. It wasnt easy to find. While I was looking, I remembered a particular moment in my life when I was 17. I had been involved in a masive car accident. I had been in a hosptial bed for four months. The day I was to leave hospital, I was overwhelmed by fear. Could I walk in this calliper that went to my thigh, and these crutches? Would I manage back at school after all this time? Did my friends still have a place for me? What was the world like now? I hadn't felt the sun, or heard a bird sing for nearly four months.

What I remembered was a tiny, elderly nun who walked into my room that day. I had never seen her before. "I believe you go home today." she said. "Yes". And then she took my head to her bony little chest and rocked me for a long time. At first I tried to resist, I just wished she would go away. But she was relentless. And then I felt myself begin to relax, and when that happened I felt a surging of all that fear and the months of pain well up and spill out of me. I began to cry. She cooed like a mother bird. When it had passed, she kissed my head and said looking deep into my eyes
with absolute certainty "You will be alright." and she disappeared out the door. An angel I think. The world was very warm when I stepped out so awkwardly that day - step by step. Someone had touched me with their love and the air, the sun, the birds all conspired to make me feel welcome.

I looked in all my files, asked my storytelling friends, looked every where for a story on senseless love. I had plenty of time to look. It was during a time when my back was very bad. My accident has left me a bit crooked and I had trouble with my back. I was going to physiotherapy a few times a week, and spending much of the other time reading, thinking, and writing. It was during this time that I went for my usual treatment, and on this particular day there was another therapist there who I hadn’t seen before. She put me into the little cubicle, buckled me into this machine that pulled down on my leg every few seconds in an attempt to relieve the nerve that was hurting, and then she walked out.

I felt so hopeless, lying there, being pulled around by this machine, knowing it wasnt going to work, so tired of the pain. When she came in to check on me, I was just lying there silently, tears pouring down my face. My eyes closed. I heard her hestitate. I felt her standing over me. She put her hands on me. And quietly she began to pray. “Dear Lord Jesus, help this girl, give her hope, take her pain, shine your light. Lord |Jesus, heal her.” And she lent over me and held me, and we both cried. Later she asked me if I minded her doing that. “Minded?” I said “ I was yearning for someone to lay their hands on me, to reach beyond a machine and draw on something bigger than us. Minded? No. I feel priledged.” “But are you not Jewish?” she asked. “Prayer is prayer” I answered. “Love is love.”

As Rumi said “the heart is the substance, and the world the accident.”
I never found a story on senseless love. And I know why. Its simple. There is no such thing.