My friend is in the thick of it now. Her husband died a few weeks ago, the flower arrangements have withered, the leftovers are gone, the kids have returned to their lives, and her bed is half empty. I level with her, “This is your life right now and it is going to last longer than you think you can bear it, yet somehow you will bear it because that old Yiddish expression is true, ‘When you must, you can.’ It is going to get better, but you are on a very long road.”
I hang up the phone and think about my own life and yours. While most of us are not grieving a dead husband, we are all on a very long road. We have gotten used to staying home 90% of the time, and to not seeing our parents or grandparents, children or grandchildren except through a computer monitor. We have gotten used to pretending the few good things from this pandemic are adequate compensation for its misery. They are not. We have gotten used to disgusting politics, to rage on the far right and rage on the far left, to biased news, outright lies, blatant self-interest, raw ambition cloaked in false altruism, corruption and stupidity.
Last night I taught a theology class for our upcoming B’nei mitzvah students. It is a subject I have taught in person for more than 30 years. Sure, we had fancy graphics and a game in Kahoot, breakout rooms and chat features, and guess what—it was awful compared to the real thing. The kids learned a fraction of what they would have learned in person. I thought about how difficult it must be to work from home, keep your kids motivated to learn, figure out dinner, worry about the bills, keep the house clean, and not freak out because it’s only October and the experts have made it pretty clear we are going to be in this mess for a lot longer than any of us could have imagined back in March when we foolishly thought “Stay at Home” meant stay at home for two weeks.
I am tired of it. I am tired of worrying about the Temple. I am tired of worrying about money. I am tired of worrying about my kids. I am tired of political bickering. I am tired of worrying about our country. I am tired of fires and scorching heat in October. I am tired of not being able to make plans for the future. I am tired of wearing a mask. I am tired, I am tired, I am tired. To make matters worse, in places like Minnesota where I grew up, it’s fall. Leaves are dropping dead to the ground. The grass is brown. It is colder and darker each day and soon, gray will blanket the earth until spring.
Thankfully, like so many times before, the Torah has come to rescue me. Ezra the Scribe mandated the public reading of Torah in 537 BCE when the ancient Israelites returned from the horrors of Babylonian exile (where their captors threw Jewish babies off cliffs for their own amusement). Since then, each fall we conclude the reading of Torah with its last words and begin the annual cycle all over again with its first; the story of creation. In the midst of grief, in the midst of sadness, and in the midst of fall spreading its dark and icy fingers across the land…we read about a world created with a rush of vibrant greens and blues, the ocean and the shore, birds winging their way across the sky, seeds bursting through rich, musty soil; mountains, and humankind reaching upward in a glorious song to life itself.
Believe me, I am not campaigning for it, nor does the job exist, but if there was such a job as Comforter-in-Chief and I held that job, here is what I would say to that suffering widow and to all of us who are facing a long, uncertain winter. Life is long. Long enough to start again, to rebuild, to take more pictures, to create more memories, to travel, hug and be free again, to heal our own despair and our nation. I would remind us all that each day begins at midnight, the darkest hour, because it helps to live with faith that the darkness will somehow be followed by the light. I would remind us all that there really is a time for everything. A time to weep and a time to laugh.
I know the overwhelming, cold, dark sea of pain the sometimes engulfs us all. I have traveled that sea myself and with so many others. I know. But I also know that the human spirit endures. Life is long; long enough for us to warm slowly back into laughter and love. This Shabbat, even as, especially as, winter approaches, we begin Torah and the story of creation again for the 2,557th time--affirming for all the world that of this we can be certain and in this we place our faith; the sun shall rise no matter how long and dark the night.