As the plans we make with such certainty suddenly fall apart (as they so often do) we can try to hold on to what “should have been,” what we desired and what we expected. But this simply turns the unavoidable pain of life into unnecessary suffering. Our other choice is to experience and acknowledge the loss, the change and the pain and then, eventually, to laugh, along with God.
We were all distraught over what had occurred. This not only for the obvious reasons, but because the lower bones in the same leg were seriously broken 23 years ago when Ann was hit by a car. This certainly was not fair to Ann. It changed all of our plans. And it was no laughing matter.
And so on Shabbat Nahamu/the Sabbath of Comfort I was driving my mother to Boston (from where she had returned five days prior) to see her eldest daughter following surgery. How ironic, I thought. On this day that focuses on consolation in response to tragedy, we were in the midst of our own family tragedy or crisis. Certainly it was not on the same scale as the destruction of a nation’s spiritual home and the slaughter of thousands of people, but for our small family, it was indeed a tragedy.
So many thoughts were running through all of our minds: we couldn’t go to the party, which meant that hardly anyone from our side of the family would be there. My mother would not be there to in some way “represent” her deceased sister, the grandmother of my engaged cousin. In addition, Ann couldn’t come home for her birthday and other plans needed to be put on hold or scrapped altogether. It was difficult in that moment to move beyond focusing on what wasn’t going to happen in the future, as well as what did happen in the immediate past and focus instead on the present. Yet when this struck me I began to write this commentary in my mind.
I had the opportunity to live on a personal level what Alan Lew writes about on a communal level. Our Temples du jour (and we all have them) were the celebration of the engagement and Ann’s coming home for her birthday. These both were laid waste by her fall. And yet in the midst of the sadness we were already finding comfort.
My mother, Betsy and I were there with Ann. Friends and family galore were writing, calling and emailing to be supportive. Friends of mine who don’t even know Ann were sending love and support to all of us via Facebook. We were indeed living the essence of Shabbat Nahamu. We were creating, over many days, an extended Sabbath of Comfort.
As I wrote above, none of this was a laughing matter. Yet, by the end of Saturday, once Ann had come through the surgery with flying colors and her healing process had begun, we also began to make jokes about the fall, the recovery process and even about missing the party (“if you didn’t want to go to the party there were certainly easier ways to get out of it!”). Of course, most of the attempts at humor were fairly lame. It was also clear that underlying the laughter was our sadness and frustration. But still, we laughed as if that were the only logical response. Mentsch tracht, Gott lacht! And so it goes.
Now, of course, comes the time of repair, renewal and rebuilding. Physically this is about rehab and medical treatment. But it is also about more than that. Each day there is a new reality to face (OK. Each moment, really!) Things may go smoothly, there may be set backs, we don’t know when Ann will be able to go back home (as she lives on her own and there are 17 steps to her apartment). So many unknown variables. But that is why the only way to proceed is moment by moment. That is the essence of the renewal and rebuilding.
As I wrote these words, three passages from the Torah portion (Va’etchanan) that had been read in synagogues around the world as we drove to Boston this past Saturday entered my mind: (1) You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you. (Deuteronomy 4:2); (2) The Eternal our God made a covenant with us…It was not with our parents that the Eternal made this covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us who is here today (Deuteronomy 5:2-3) and finally, one of the central verses of Jewish tradition: (3) Hear, O Israel, the Eternal, our God, the Eternal is One! (Deuteronomy 6:4).
From a mindfulness perspective, the first passage can serve as a reminder that in life we have no ability to add or subtract from the reality of the moment. What is, is what is. What happens, is what happens. Sure, we can try to change it. We can play mental games as much as we like. But that does not change the reality of the moment. What we are commanded is to be mindful of the moment, to experience the reality of what is. Nothing more and nothing less.
In the spirit of the second passage, we must remember that this reality is not about the past. Of course, I cannot deny the reality that we all build on what has been given to us. However, the commandment to live in the present is meant for the present. It is meant for us. We have inherited from those who came before, but ultimately that is not what matters. What is important is our covenant with the reality of this moment. Nothing else.
And finally, that which gives us the ability to attempt to live this way in each moment is the One of the Universe. God. Our Higher Power. The Divine Spirit. The Eternal One. Whatever name you choose, it is the unseen essence that connects all of humanity and the universe which provides us with the strength to face tragedy, accept it, rebuild and renew ourselves. Perhaps most important of all, it is the power that enables us face each moment and laugh.
We must pay attention with heart and soul to that still small voice within. However, we must also remember that God is not a panacea, quick solution or a “babysitter in sky”. On the contrary, that still small voice within us is what enables us to realize that there is no panacea. There is no quick fix. There is no heavenly babysitter. There is only us and the moment. But if in that moment we are connected, then that is all we need. That is what family, community, love and faith are all about. That is the essence of what we call spirituality or faith. And that is how we learn to continue one moment at a time. Moving from trial to comfort and beyond. That is how we learn to truly live.