Monthly Archives: August 2017

Balancing Act

posted on Blogs Times of Israel August 1, 2017 Tisha B’Av

I spend my days seeking balance in life: creating joyful moments to offset challenges I face, practicing righteousness to outweigh injustice, finding the calm to counter the frenzy. I surround myself with reasonable, good-hearted people, and I attend to the chaos in but small doses. The balancing act we call life relies on our ability to blend the ideal measure of what is good and bad in this world and to emerge as  human beings who possess virtue with kindness, integrity with honor, and morality with self-worth. Since we lost Gilad almost 7 years ago, striking the balance that’s comfortable for me means gathering a fertile measure of happiness and filtering the gloom.

Judaism itself has checks and balances, the Torah acting as our guide to life and relationships, equity in the community, fairness in our actions. Religion influences and teaches us, guides us to do what is right and just in every action and movement each day and with anyone we encounter.

Yet, there are paradoxes at every turn, colored black and white with few shades of grey in between. One moment it is permissible to work, plow a field, cook, use electronics, drive, and turn on lights; another moment those activities are taboo on the Sabbath. One week in the life of a woman she is accessible to her husband in loving ways; other weeks she is in seclusion from that intimate relationship.

Moreover, there are chunks of time during the year when joy is mandated and encouraged, akin to a performing a good deed. The flip side of the calendar are the weeks when weddings, vacations and business transactions are avoided, as it is not a time for happiness. Rather, that is the time we commemorate tragic events that befell our nation. We enter a sad and heavy-hearted realm, and are low of spirit. New clothing, music, and parties are discouraged, often forbidden, and life chugs along on a lower scale of the register.

Most people, I believe, are able to navigate the vacillating nature of our days, the back and forth of happy and sad and then happy again, and claim to be more resilient as a result. As young children we learned to master the natural and unpredictable ebb and flow of life, where experiences deeply affected our emotions. But a loving hand on our backs assured us that all would be well, and that a treat or something special or fun was just around the bend, maybe not right now, but perhaps soon, even tomorrow.

I am too seasoned now to expect a hand on my back to reassure me that everything will be ok. In addition to the loss of a son, aging parents who now need us present thorny, myriad challenges which prod and push incessantly into everyday life. It takes much circumventing and mental effort to keep the balance skewed towards what feels good and right.

So when I find myself in the midst of a mandated sad, mournful period of time, I cannot usually tap into that directive. Even years after my son’s passing, part of me is sad all the time, and one of my coping mechanisms is to withdraw into the recesses of my mind and daydream myself onto a beach or into a relaxing game in order to escape reality. It is a calculated way of spacing out and ignoring what may be taking place around me. Whether it is the period of time between Pesach and Shavuot or the 3 weeks between Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, I am not as present as others may be. I simply cannot afford to relinquish my emotions to sadness, or I may just inadvertently drown in the fray.

I few years ago, in a piece entitled  “Not Just One Mournful Day,” I spoke of the challenges of Tisha B’Av: ”If my heart carries sorrow every day, am I required to mourn beyond that? How do I add a layer of communal loss onto the burden that already weighs me down, to grief that is emotionally deafening on more than one mournful day? Haven’t I had enough?”

Many people fuss over the 3 weeks and time of the omer, and are inconvenienced by the fast days in the summer. Others admirably and successfully tap into national days of mourning and commemorate somber times appropriately. But for me these sad periods in our history and practice are a tenacious reminder that I struggle to strike the right balance each and every day. If I freely allow Tisha B’Av into my psyche, I wonder what I may discover. I cannot admit what sitting on the floor and talking in mournful tones reminds me of.  And while others will return to their lives unscathed after the prescribed period of fasting and mourning, it is not as easy for me to return to my carefully constructed life if I let down the guardrails of my heart and allow entry to more sadness than I may be able to accommodate.

 

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Seven Years A Life

Time continues to confound us, moving both slowly and rushing past at a speed we cannot quite register. Seven years is a lifetime for our granddaughter; seven days is a lifetime of creation. The days in a week number 7, as do the mourning time of shiva and diametrically, seven are the blessings of new life at a wedding. Some of our holidays span 7 days, and we count seven ancestral patriarchs and matriarchs.

Is there magic or a mystical quality to the number seven? We encircle things 7 times: the walls of Jerico fell after 7 miltary passes, a bride moves around her spouse under the chuppah to signify their own emotional space. We track 7 weeks between the spring holidays of Passover and Shavuot, allow the ground in Israel to lay fallow in its 7th year, and organic species of  Israel – wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranates, olive (oil), date (honey) – total seven, too.

Other numbers represent good luck, completion, protection, or unity, and while 7 may be powerful in its own context, what does it mean? Clearly seven signifies a cycle of things – a week gone by and starting anew, a holiday appearing again on the calendar, a period of time to experience joy or grief or agricultural practice.

So where does that leave my family as we approach the 7th yahrtzeit of Gilad’s passing on August 26/16 Elul? Is Gd, in His infinite wisdom, sending me a message at year seven?

My mind and spirit consider Shabbat, the 7th day of rest we enact every single week. All week long there’s a driving force propeling us forward, translating our passions into productivity. We need to accomplish and gloat about how busy we are:  we rush to school or work, panic to meet deadlines, set our alarms to go here there everywhere, and squeeze in time to exercise and run errands. Yet, at the end of 6 days, we are right back where we started –  with a full inbox, the to-do list growing even as we check things off. Is our life a series of frenzied sprints or where we are mindful of the present and notice that there are roses to smell?

Each Shabbat we stop and breathe and think and love and remember. We go back to Biblical times and about-face from computers and smart phones and televisions. We don’t drive to the office or pick up a little something at the store or run just a tiny errand that will take only 10 minutes. And on the seventh day you shall rest. Shabbat is the only time all week I sit on my living room couch and read; it’s when I invite friends over to connect and lounge over food and wine. The seventh day of the week is when we can have a love affair with our lives – to relish being with each other, to breathe deeply, and to truly be in the moment in a way that escapes us the other 6 days of the week.

No matter how sick Gilad was, he embraced Shabbat. He showered and changed his clothes, even if he donned pjs or sweats and T-shirts all other days. I remember him coming downstairs, all ready for Shabbat but no longer going to shul, and laying down on the couch to rest. The living room couch was our Shabbat space, so even these simple actions were different and holy. Gilad sat at the table with us for as many weeks as he was able, even if he needed a comfier chair, even if he was not really eating. One of our most powerful memories is of Gilad singing at the Friday nite table – and then later us singing at his bedside – with his eyes closed and voice clear, as true as prayer can get. These images of Gilad and Shabbat resonate deeply in my heart. He may have had his issues with Gd, as he wasn’t being allowed to live his life as an adult on his own terms. And although I was not privvy to all that Gilad practiced or chose not to, I was witness to his keeping Shabbat close to his heart until his last days on earth.

At year seven I persist in my struggle to make sense of it all, and continue to challenge Gd with unanswerable questions. But in the spirit of the number 7 and our beautiful, charming son, who should-have-been could-have-been a fabulously successful and gorgeous adult, I too am intensely keeping Shabbat…and remembering Gilad every day each week as we count seven over and over again.