18 March 2011
12 Adar 2, 5771
On Wednesday evening hundreds of people attended Gann’s screening of Race to Nowhere, the expose on the pressures that school, testing, and the college application process create for our children, which I described in last week’s email. Unfortunately, because of a flight delay, I was unable to be at Gann to moderate the panel and discussion that followed. However, as our community watched the film at school, I developed an instant connection with Sal, the sweet and wise man sitting next to me on the plane. Sal is an equine massage therapist—yes, a massage therapist for horses! He shared his professional journey with me, and almost like a prophet or an angel, he offered reflections and insights that spoke directly to the Race to Nowhere and to the themes of Purim, as well.
“How does someone become a horse massage therapist?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “for years I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I started off as an investment broker, then I tended bar for a few years. I was about to go back to law school, although I didn’t really want to become a lawyer, and then someone introduced me to horses. The minute I put my hands on a horse I felt like a duck in water. I had discovered my passion.” He told me that he then spent years learning human massage therapy and honed his knowledge of horses through participation in anatomy labs at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I was eager to learn about his clients and his practice, but what struck me most was his advice for the next generation. “I was always looking. You have to approach life in such a way that there is possibility around every corner. Too many people have too limited a perspective on what to do with their lives and how they can earn a successful living.” I concurred and shared with him that, in our Jewish world, so many of our kids are pre-med, pre-law, or pre-finance before even getting to college! We tend to envision the possibilities that we already see in our lives.
Sal then flipped over his magazine. On the back was an advertisement for tires featuring two race cars. “Someone had to take this picture,” he said. “And someone has to design these cars, and change these tires. You have to know how to look ’cause when you do, you realize that everywhere around you are possibilities of what might be your calling, your talent, your passion. And, if you work hard, you can make a living at doing things you love.”
I learned several things during my conversation with Sal. First, there is such a thing as a massage therapist for horses! Second, I realized that, perhaps, one of the ways we can and already do address the “race to nowhere” is by teaching our children to search for and stay open to their somewhere. At Gann some of the ways we do this is by offering a wide range of electives, requiring participation in sports and arts, and, most uniquely, offering wonderful opportunities through Exploration Week, which begins next week. Third, when I looked at the back of the magazine, I was reminded that, in order for our students to see the world of possibilities that truly lies before them, we actually need to help them see the world through different eyes. The story and holiday of Purim and the comic satire of the Megillah teach us that there is more to reality than what we see on the surface. God’s name does not appear in the Megillah, but His presence is felt. Esther (from the Hebrew word Hester-hidden) hides her Jewish identity in order to become queen. We wear costumes and masks, which free us to explore other personae while drawing attention to the masks each of us wears even when we’re not dressed up.
My plane friend, Sal, has built a most successful business and is one of the most sought-after massage therapists for competitive sport horses. He discovered his love of horses because he stayed open to the possibility of discovering a career path that he didn’t even know existed because it was not visible on the surface of his life. As we continue to reflect on and grapple with the Race to Nowhere and as we celebrate Purim this year, may we learn from Sal’s example.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach (Happy Purim)!
Rabbi Marc Baker