As summer has given way to fall, the Mason community has embraced the seasons’ change and continues to address the many challenges we faced during the spring and summer. The “syndemic” of issues, as identified by Arthur Evans, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President of the American Psychological Association, remain as we confront the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated public health challenges and concurrently address the plague of systemic racism, its roots and sequelae, as well as the cumulative emotional impact.
Fall also is the season when those who observe my faith celebrate the High Holidays. For Jews, it is time for turning the page as a new year begins while reflecting on the year we end, expressing hope for the future and repenting for our transgressions. The liturgy of the holidays reminds us that as we reflect and understand that all remain vulnerable, we also aspire to live a life with meaning, compassion, caring and service.
This year, as I attended virtual High Holiday services, I was particularly struck by reading the historic words of the 18th century Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who wrote that the “whole world is a narrow bridge.” Over the past several months, his words have held special meaning as they reflect our current situation. Today, humanity is crossing a very narrow lane, with steep cliffs, sweeping curves and many dangers. We remain at the edge of a precipice – a narrow bridge with many risks.
His teachings also instruct that as we cross the “narrow bridge”, we cannot be paralyzed by our fear; rather we must overcome fear with understanding and the support of our community. As such, this liturgic interpretation brought special meaning for me during this very challenging time.
At Mason, we continue to traverse a very “narrow bridge” yet we do so with confidence and caring, NOT with fear. Our confidence is derived from the authentic sense of shared responsibility by our entire university community as well as our reliance on science, the advice of public health professionals and our continual appraisal of data. We also cross the “narrow bridge” with a sense of confidence because we value and support each other. Together, we have adhered to public health principles and remain vigilant. We rely on each other, care for each other and know that we are dependent on each other if we are to assure the health of our entire community.
Mason: TOGETHER as ONE is meaningful because it remains more than a slogan – it is our CALL TO ACTION.
The late eminent educator and scholar Sir Ken Robinson wrote of education that, “… it is the soil, not the plants.” He was right. It is the culture of our university that is helping us safely to cross the “narrow bridge.” We are a caring community that also is a responsible community. Our caring for each other is the fabric of our university. Our soil is fertile. It both nurtures and nourishes our entire community.
Throughout the spring and summer, we came to understand that our new normal is not at all normal and so we adjusted. As the seasons continue to change and we brace for multiple new challenges the syndemic will bring, we will need to cross many more “narrow bridges.” As we do, there will be fear.
I ask that you join me in not being paralyzed by our fear. Instead, join me as a member of our caring community who will be guided by our principles, our values, what we learn and what we know that is based upon scientific evidence and best practices. We will strive to do what is right and what is best.
Together we safely will cross each successive “narrow bridge.” Mason: TOGETHER as ONE.