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This American Jewish Life

12/29/2022 08:48:27 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman -Weiss

The theme of a recent episode of the podcast, This American Life, focused on “the ghost in the machine.”  The idea being that in every technology, one can discern the imprint of the human being that was its creator.  They open with some first radio recordings from RCA, they then move to a claustrophobic! daughter’s stories of her father who was the inventor of the MRI!, and then they move to a piece about a father who would share with his nuclear family their  “AFL.”  What is an “AFL” you wonder?  The Average Family Location.  You see, starting about 10 years earlier, every few weeks he would send an email to his four adult children asking them to report on the exact location of each of their family members.  The Dad would then record this information, plot out the locations on “MapQuest,” record each longitude and latitude, and then make the big reveal to the family – their AFL.  Meaning, the city that was the exact equidistant point between each and every one of his loved ones, each and every day.

The questions, the primary focus of the interviewer, posed to the members of the family interviewed for the story was why?  Why did their dad share with all of them this most trivial of data points?  A city that was equidistant between them all but one in which none of them had ever even stepped foot?  Why do you think?  Especially if you used to have children living with you, but they’ve since flown the coop.  What would prod you to engage in an effort such as this?  After a few minutes, the episode reveals that the Dad is “First Generation,” his parents are Holocaust survivors, and like so many, he grew up with no cousins, no uncles or aunts, no grandparents…just he and his parents.  He grew up in the shadow of people who never knew the last location of their loved ones.  Loved ones who disappeared into oblivion, whose disappearance came about through a combination of purposeful ignorance and narcissistic self-interest.  Ironically, the disappearance of people doesn’t come about accidentally, but through meticulous effort, paying attention to the seemingly unimportant details.  So perhaps, in as powerful a way, obsessively focusing on the existence of one’s loved ones, keeping their physical presence so close to heart, that it is discerned through scientific observation, isn’t a tilt against windmills, but an effort to push back against the darkness of evil, claiming, “We’re still here.”  

In the New Year, let us push back against the darkness through the exercise of freedom to pursue our own seemingly trivial but sacred points on the maps of our own lives.  There are morons out there in the world whose drive and effort are fueled by the marginalization of others whose story is seemingly so different than theirs.  But it isn’t.  We know that it isn’t.  Everybody is found and everybody is lonely.  Everybody is heard and everybody is ignored. Everybody is loved and everybody is loveless.  The effort should be to do more with our lives to help others and ourselves be found, be heard and be loved. 

PS if you're not yet a "This American Life" afficionado, do yourself a favor and sign up to receive their podcast.  


Mon, May 29 2023 9 Sivan 5783