Works in Progress

Matt Shapiro
January 31, 2013
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For me, my fear is a work in progress.
Not ignoring it, not eliminating it, just getting to know it.
I thought for a long time that fear was the enemy
That having fear meant, God forbid, I was flawed.
I am flawed and fear is part of that.


Where I work, a regular saying is,
progress, not perfection.
I wish I could have back all those fruitless hours I spent
aiming for that hopeless, delicious fantasy.


Creating something new means not being dragged down into old behavior
being willing to try, experiment, fail.
The pretty side of progress is getting better.
The important part of progress is messing up.


I want to think that I want to always be changing, growing, developing
ever closer to that perfect self.
Just one moment away
from attaining and being swept up in eternal light.


But I don’t.
Change is scary.
It means I need to leave parts of myself behind.
Parts of myself I know, probably even love.
Even though they’ve brought me down, held me back,
restricted growth.
I don’t want to lose something so familiar.


The famous story of Franz Rosenzweig who,
when asked if he wore tefillin,
said, “not yet”
serves as a model to me.
I might not be doing everything I want to be doing,
and some days it feels like I’m doing hardly any of it.
But there is hope.
Hope and fear.


Our tradition teaches that though the world is a narrow bridge,
the core thing is not to be afraid at all.
Or, translated differently, to not exclusively be afraid.
To see the fear, let the fear in,
and by doing so, not let the fear drive action and response.


I’m always going to be progressing toward something.
The question is, what am I moving toward?
The harder question is, do I have the courage and strength to be
proactive, committed, clear of mind and heart
with regard to my goals
and progress toward them without just living in fear.


Jewish history is filled with stories of revitalization and revision.
The shift from the Temple sacrifices to the folios of Talmud, for portability.
The concretization of law codes, for coherence and comprehension.
Flights of mystical imagination, for the soul and spirit.
Seemingly radical moves that now seem as natural as Genesis itself.
If I can internalize the wisdom and courage of the willingness
to embrace, rather than run from, challenges,
then I will truly be growing.
If Judaism hadn’t progressed, it’d probably be dead by now.
A scary, but honest, lesson.


Each day, I am presented with the opportunity to fulfill commandments.
I need to figure out to what I am no longer saying “not yet,”
the ways in which I am saying, “yes, now.”
Progress only happens by committing to each moment as it comes.
And this moment needs a response.


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Matt Shapiro lives in Los Angeles, California and works as a spiritual counselor at Beit T'shuvah, a Jewish residential addiction treatment center. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, with a BA in Jewish Studies, and is working toward his ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

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