A Powerful Three P’s: Presence, Perseverance, and Perspective
This week I was honored to be part of a minyan at a funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery for an Air Force LT who served in WWII (with gratitude to S.J., who invited me). The last time I’d been to Arlington was on a school trip when I was 12 years old. Last week, on Veteran’s Day, I wrote that none of us would be here without the sacrifices of heroic men and women who fight on our behalf. This week, just as we read Abraham’s famous statement of presence before G-d (Hineini – I am here), I got a much clearer understanding of the powerful impact of being present.
Presence is one of three “P’s” that I try to hold close all the time, because they are all core values and deep challenges. The other two are perseverance and perspective. These three characteristics are each exemplified in Abraham’s words and actions in the stories we read this week:
Hineini has gained great fame, and perhaps it deserves that – the power of presence is not to be underestimated. The Hebrew itself is an unusual construction, and in fact the whole interchange between G-d and Abraham is hard to understand. G-d begins, “Abraham.” Abraham answers, “Here I am.” The simple statement of presence seems to indicate something much deeper than a simple declaration. Abraham is interacting directly with the divine – not an everyday occurrence, and one which was likely terrifying. It is Yir-ah (awe/fear) that often describes an encounter with divinity, so it is actually a radical statement to remain present in the face of supreme power without cowering in fear, fleeing in terror, or freezing on the spot.
Abraham also displays perseverance (perhaps too much, according to some) in his service to G-d. He persists in arguing on behalf of the few righteous people in Sodom, when Hashem is ready to destroy the whole city, bargaining on their behalf. He again persists when asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, despite the fact that such a decision would certainly drive most people insane. This quality is one of the most powerful tools we can give our children – it is the core of success – without the ability to persevere in the face of challenges, navigating through life with agency is unlikely at best.
The third leg of this triangle is perspective. One powerful way to use perspective is to be able to listen and empathize with others so purely that you adopt some part of their perspective – this is a real challenge when you have conflicting values and beliefs. Another powerful way is to be able to keep a sense of perspective during times of stress. It is a rare ability to confront a difficult situation with the understanding that what seems looming in this moment could seem very small the next.
Not just exemplified by Abraham, these three attributes were on display in every aspect of the funeral at Arlington. From the care and order the soldiers exemplified while folding and delivering the American flag to the family of the deceased to the discipline and crisp perfection with which each movement was completed, perspective, perseverance, and presence were all clearly communicated throughout. I was truly moved by the honor of being present for such a moment, and am grateful to those who made it possible for me to be there.
This Shabbat, as we read about our forefathers and foremothers, I hope that we each can take stock of our own sources of the three P’s, and that we can transmit these values to our children.