Our Year of Magical Thinking

Professor Joe Goldblatt

One of the world’s oldest jokes begins with “A priest, a rabbi and a minister walked into a bar…”  Fourteen months ago, a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew walked into the internet to begin a magical journey  that aspired to offer help, healing and hope through a weekly on line programme.  The result was a year of truly magical thinking that has reached and inspired thousands of people all over the world.

In 2005 Joan Didion published her “A Year of Magical Thinking” which chronicled her period of mourning following the death of her husband. The book was immediately declared a classic about the experience of personal mourning.

For me, 2020 was also a year of personal mourning as the pandemic took its deadly toll with friends, family members, and my fellow citizens in Scotland and throughout the world. Therefore, when I was invited to serve as a co – host for a weekly video podcast entitled Interfaith Insights produced by the Edinburgh Interfaith Association I began this journey with trepidation. I secretly worried how I could contribute to, as the programme aspired, giving hope and helping others heal the wounds of the past year.

The Swiss – American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kuber Ross identified a grief cycle that may be caused by different situations. She argued that at first we experience denial as we are shocked by the change in our situation. This is then followed by anger because we feel out of control. Next, we may try to bargain our way forward such as when we are given the bad news of a terminal condition. However, eventually, depression eventually arrives when we realise that the facts clearly confirm that we shall ultimately suffer a loss. The final stage in the grieving process is acceptance when we are able to finally accept that a loss is inevitable and from that loss we shall begin to grieve.

In the Jewish tradition, a death of a loved one is seen as a deep wound that over time shall heal, however, it shall also always leave a scar to remind us of the deep love that lasts forever. This is why some observant Jews often were a small black ribbon that is slightly torn to remind the outside world that they have entered a special time of mourning.

And now, having completed a year of magical thinking through the weekly Interfaith Insights programmes where we have come together with some of the most inspiring and intelligent individuals I have ever known, I am now starting to mourn once again and yet I am not particularly sad. Rather, I am proud of all we have experienced and achieved.

When we began our programme we did not even have a name and yet through selfless collaboration, our many years of personal and professional contacts and the digital talents of our creative director, we were able in very short order to pull together a weekly fifty minute broadcast that has reached and hopefully inspired thousands of people all over the world.

It all does seem a bit unfair, however, as have in fact spent over one year mourning the loss of our personal freedoms such as travel, socialisation with friends and family and now our weekly support group is coming to an end and this uniquely inspiring petri dish of ideas, debate, and the exploration of faith and in some cases no faith shall no longer enjoy the lively interactions of the past. These chemical reactions are now falling silent and shall now need to await a new and even better formula in the future.

Joan Didion saw her year of magical thinking in an anthropological sense where she believed that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions that an unavoidable event may be averted. However, I believe that our year of magical thinking shall ultimately recognise this not as the end but rather the beginning of a special time for reflection, rejoicing and reimagining how we may use the experiences of the past year to bring evern greater hope to ourselves and others.

During the past year I have had the privilege with my colleagues of listening to the wise and wonderful magical thinking of leading Imams, Ministers, Priests, Rabbis, Swamis, political leaders, faith and community activists and many others and through this journey I have made many, many new friends who have emboldened me to work ever harder to help our community promote better understanding, compassion and yes, love for one another.

Therefore, this is the amazing gift that began with the loss of the normal and led us through the abnormal and through it all, we experienced a remarkable year of magical thinking. Now, as our year of magical thinking comes to an end with our final programme this week, I absolutely believe that it will usher in an even more magical year in the future because of the new strength and understanding that we have been gifted by so many others whom I have come to know, respect and admire.

Elizabeth Kubler – Ross describes the final stage of grief as acceptance where in we understand our loved one can never be replaced, but we move, grow, and evolve into our new reality. We shall never be able to replace this year of magical thinking, however, we may now accept, grow and evolve even further than before we commenced this special journey. This is the ultimate gift of endings and new beginnings, the rare opportunity to take everything we have learned and use it as a tool to further expand our potential as human beings who desire to every day help improve the world for one another.

I wish to offer by sincere appreciation to Iain Stewart, Executive Director of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association, Carrie Alderton, Creative Director, Nasim Azad, and all of our guests from all over the world for providing me with this remarkable year of magical thinking. In many ways it has been a life saver and nurturer of great personal and professional development that will absolutely bring forth many positive new beginnings for me and I hope through the on line recorded programmes, for many others long into the future.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Treasurer of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association and for one year served as one of the co – hosts for the weekly video podcast entitled Interfaith Insights. You may find all of the programmes from the past year here https://www.facebook.com/watch/122672657791731/2670026369985784

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