Seeing the Forest for the Trees

At times we are rightly warned that paying too much attention to details may result in losing the ability to see the forest for the trees. I believe that it goes the other way around as well: When focusing mainly on the forest, especially when it is dark and scary, we lose our appreciation of the beauty and vitality of the trees. This is especially true when our image of the forest, the “big picture” of our world, is drawn by the media that favors scenes of conflicts and crises.  

In a recent article in The New York Times, David Brooks made the point that one of the reasons we are often pessimistic and despondent is that “[we at the media] spend 90 percent of our coverage on the 10 percent of our lives influenced by politics and 10 percent of our coverage on the 90 percent of our lives influenced by relationship, community, and the places we live in.” In addition to Brooks’ astute observation, I also noticed that a specific matter can evoke in us the opposite reaction when looked at through the lenses of politics versus the lenses of relationships and community. 

Last weekend Gali and I attended
St. Peter Catholic Church to participate in a celebration in honor of Fr. Don Finney’s 25th anniversary as a priest. As I was admiring the social hall that was beautifully transformed and tastefully decorated and taking in the warm and uplifting atmosphere, I realized that some issues that occupied my mind, like the secularization of our society, antisemitism, and immigration felt completely different that night. 

Listening to the tribute that masterfully walked a thin line between a roast and a genuine show of respect and love, it was clear that even if the “big picture” indicates a decline in the number of houses of worship in general, the story of many particular communities is just the opposite. For many people, God and faith are still central elements of their lives and many houses of worship, like St. Peter across the road from our Temple, still thrive and engage a diverse group of members.

The “big picture” treats immigration as an explosive political and partisan issue. At the celebration, a group of Hispanic members gave a heartwarming speech in English and Spanish thanking Fr. Don for building the Hispanic Ministry at St. Peter that serves 300 members. At that moment, no one cared about politics—only about faith, gratitude, and the virtue of the community. Later on, Fr. Don told the crowd that when he took Spanish in high school in South Dakota he never expected to use it, as there was no Spanish-speaking person in sight, yet God had other plans for that skill in his life. 

The “big picture” provides us with the data showing a significant increase in anti-Jewish activities. It is true, and keeps many of us up at night. But that night at the church, all we felt was an outpouring of love for the big sister religion, Judaism. Gali and I were seated with Fr. Don and his family, and were thanked publicly for attending the event. I felt that the same divine hand that made the nuns notice the six-year-old Don and assigned him different tasks and responsibilities that led to him becoming a priest, and the hand that made him love Spanish and inspired him to open his heart and church to the Hispanic community, also developed his interest in history which culminated in a Masters degree in Holocaust studies and his becoming a true friend and supporter of the Jewish community. 

It is imperative to take a step back so we can see and understand the “big picture”. But we should never forget to immerse ourselves in the small details to better appreciate the complexity and the goodness around us.