A Smiling President

President Obama has been in quite a bit of hot water lately, but this past week he was criticized for a new offense, as far as I can tell – for smiling and laughing while riding in a golf cart.  The facts:  the President (while on vacation) had been on the phone with the parents of the brutally murdered American journalist James Foley.  Immediately afterwards, he gave a brief press conference during which he spoke emotionally about Foley’s killing.  Then a few minutes after that he climbed into a golf cart for a round of 18.  While in the cart he was photographed smiling and laughing.

The criticism was immediate and fairly harsh.  He could he be so disingenuous?  How could he fake emotion in front of the cameras, and then go out for such a frivolous activity, laughing all the way?  Shouldn’t he have canceled his golf game, or at least, while sitting in the cart, kept up a somber and serious demeanor?  I have to say, on this one I sympathize with the President.  And my guess is, most clergy would.

Why?  Because anyone who is a member of the clergy has done the same thing.  You meet with a family about an upcoming funeral, and right afterwards you might take a call from an old friend and chuckle over past escapades.  You might leave an unveiling and drive to a wedding, ‘switching’ your emotional level from  reverence and sadness to joy.  You might walk away from the graveside and drive directly to a baby naming.  Or vice versa.  You might even leave a funeral, after speaking with genuine emotion about the deceased, and go to play golf, laughing at a joke that your playing partner makes.

And you have to do it that way.  If you don’t, you won’t be able to live a normal life.  Every moment of every day will be taken up with emotional freight, with either the highest highs or the lowest lows.  Like with any profession, you have to be able to disengage, to leave the ‘office’ behind, and just let go and be you.  Even if you are the rabbi.  All the more so if you are the President.  

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