Well, it was a disappointment.
I was expecting something along the lines of his "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," but I did not get it. First, the book uses Moses as an example of someone who faced disappointment after disappointment. Fair enough. But I just didn't feel like he managed to make the connection well enough between Moses and my good self in 2007.
Second, the book is a bit sexist. Not in the overt "oops I've dropped my pencil, Miss Tattersall, could you pick it up for me?" way, but in the "most men (and some women) singlemindedly pursue career goals..." Or, "For the most part, men's dreams center on success in business, women's dreams on fulfilling relationships..." Really? I just don't buy that. All of my guy friends have or want a fulfilling relationship, and I certainly didn't go out looking to become Mrs. [Man's First Name] [Man's Last Name] just because I was a woman. I wanted both, which most of my male generational cohorts do too. So--as you can see--he just sprinkled these one-off, throwaway sentences throughout the book that kept jarring me out of his narrative and making we think about Rabbi Kushner himself, his political views, and (more likely) the demographic of the congregation he leads. The book could have been written without the constant "(and some women)" caveats thrown in.
There were two things I did get out of the book:
1. A good discussion on Daniel Levinson's notion of "the tyranny of the dream," in which he discusses the need for people to loose themselves from the tyranny of their youthful dreams. When we are just starting out, we have a mental plan or perhaps just a nebulous idea of what we hope our life to be. In order to be truly happy, we must free ourselves from our previously-held dreams that may not have come true, and replace them with new ones.
2. A reminder that the events in life are not all about you: "When something bad happens, we feel singled out by fate. We are convinced that everyone else out there is happy and healthy and only we are suffering." But the way to overcoming our disappointment and pain in whatever loss we have suffered is to see that heartbreak is what connects us all, that almost everyone has experienced something sorrowful, and that we are not alone, not special because we suffer, and not the only person who has or will contend with losing the conviction that she is in control of her life. That really spoke to me, about getting to a place where you deal with your own disappointments by helping others through theirs, by letting go of the need to control every aspect of your life (it's hard, y'all), and recognizing that sometimes sh*t just happens--to you. Not because you deserve it. Not because you didn't have other plans going on at the time of the sh*t occurring. But because that is just life. Or, as Rabbi Kushner so beautifully put it at the end of the book:
If you have been brave enough to love, and sometimes you won and sometimes you lost; if you have cared enough to try, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't; if you have been bold enough to dream and have found yourself with some dreams that came true and a lot of broken pieces of dreams that didn't, that fell to earth and shattered, then you can look back from the mountaintop you now find yourself standing on, like Moses contemplating the tablets that would guide human behavior for millennia, resting in the Ark alongside the broken fragments of an earlier dream. And you, like Moses, can realize how full your life has been and how richly you are blessed.
Or, as Leonard Cohen wrote: "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."