Many years ago, I heard a story told by a rabbi, about a little village in the middle of Russia. The village was an important commercial center, strategically located at the crossroads of the two most traveled thoroughfares in Russia. One stretched from Moscow to Siberia. The other from the arctic circle to the Baltic Sea. At a corner of the intersection was this small village that was the scene of countless accidents that were financially costly to the village, physically destructive to property and detrimental to the health and well-being of human beings and animals. The accidents occurred between carts speeding in opposite directions and meeting violently, causing death and injury to many of the oxen, numerous ox cart drivers and even some pedestrians. As a result, the wise elders of the village met to discuss and find a solution that would alleviate the problem. After prolonged, heated discussions, as political meetings are often prone to be, one of the wise men said, “What we need at this corner is a traffic signal that will work day and night and will have three lights on every side; red, yellow and green. The red would tell the ox cart drivers, ‘you’ve got to stop’. The green would say, ‘you can continue, you have the right-of-way’. The yellow would indicate that the light was about to change and they should either hurriedly get through the intersection or refrain from trying’.”
The council was tremendously receptive to his suggestion, until one of the members asked, “What is an electric light?” A very relevant question, in light of the fact that the year was 1469. Benjamin Franklin hadn’t yet flown his kite, thus, this alternative wasn’t feasible. So, they went back into caucus. This time, they came up with what seemed to be more a viable solution; build a steel overpass at the corner, which would allow traffic to go in either direction at the same time, without meeting one another. Once again, someone thought to bring up a question regarding steel beams. No one knew what they were or where they could get them. So, an alternative was quickly suggested, “Let’s use large timbers.” However, their location in the center of Russia, in a barren, desolate land where the largest tree was only a shrub, made this suggestion equally untenable. Another thought was, ‘Perhaps we could still build the overpass, but construct it out of mud and clay and various little shrubs and tree limbs that might strengthen the structure.” They did so and, for a while, it was hailed as a brilliant move. At least until the rainy season, when the bridge weakened considerably and they had the worst catastrophe the town had ever experienced. Four or five ox carts and drivers were involved. Bodies and materials and animals were strewn from one side of the road to the other. In all, it was a bloody mess. It took days to clean up the debris. But it took far longer to mend the emotions and bodies of those injured by the incident.
As a result, the wise men once again convened and unanimously concluded that their previous decisions were faulty. Although they had merit, they had to be put on hold until such time as electricity was invented, the technology involving the pressing out of steel beams was developed, or the funds and availability for strong timbers came about. They then had to come up with something that would at least help during the transitional period. Their decision; build a hospital at the corner of the intersection.
Now, you might wonder why in the world I would use this space to tell you this story. The reason is that I have recently come across a large number of patients who have been strongly and adversely affected, emotionally and financially, by the current economic problems our country is facing. Many of them had lost their jobs, were faced with future unemployment, or needed to alter their career paths. All of them questioned why they had worked so hard for so long, only to reach a point where the nest egg they built had dwindled - sometimes to 50% of what it was previously. In varying degrees, their situation is no different from so many others of us in this society. The unfortunate aspect of this problem is that there is no immediate solution. There’s nothing we can do to turn the switch back on, or cause a light to shine seconds after we do. We’re told, and newspapers and television seem to reinforce the notion that we will be able to climb out of our problems, but that there will be some tough times and a great deal of effort required, and that progress will, at best, be slow and tedious. Obviously, this affects the emotions of most human beings. It undermines confidence in our society. It mitigates our sense of security and causes many of us to live with heightened anxiety and increased, vague fears regarding the future. In many ways, our situation is similar to those experienced by the inhabitants of the little village at the crossroads of the two major thoroughfares in Russia.
Perhaps at this time, the most we can do is recognize the problem, put efforts into thinking about possible solutions, and accept the fact that, until “electricity is invented”, or “steel is available”, we just have to hold on. We need to support one another, breathe hope into our environment, love into our interpersonal relations and positive thoughts into our dreams for the future. We must interact with one another in a fashion that will cause each of us to feel stronger, more joyous and hopeful regarding tomorrow, instead of pessimistic about yesterday. It’s a time for positive thinking and for taking steps that will enable us to avoid similar problems in the future. In essence, it’s time to build a hospital to take care of what ails us at the present time and to nurture creative thinking and a positive orientation for the future.