I sit in the sanctuary. It is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. The year when even the least observant Jew can be seen in a synagogue.
I am not the least observant Jew… Not really possible with a husband who is studying to become a rabbi. Not really possible with the amount of Jewish tradition I was raised with. Not really possible with Polish grandparents who survived the Holocaust. Not really possible with the number of Jewish food calories I have consumed in 38 years.
And yet it is still somewhat a surprise to me that I am there, in this synagogue, following along with this kind of service. It is a traditional Reform Jewish service. The prayer book – Gates of Repentance, special for this day of atonement – talks of
God as Lord,
God as male,
God as judging,
God as forgiving.
I can’t quite bring myself to recite along during the call and response. I can’t bring myself to say, God, oh Lord… out loud.
This is not how I relate to God, to Source, to all that is around and within me. This is not how I connect to my divine essence. Not in this language.
My “God” is not separate from me.
My “God” is not in charge, deciding what I will receive and what will be taken away, when I will struggle and when I will overcome.
My “God” does not judge or punish me.
My “God” does not care whether I fast on Yom Kippur, or that my fast today included drinks of water and kombucha, that my day of atonement included a trip to Whole Foods and time sitting on my couch writing in my journal and reading a (non-Jewish) book.
Then I find this in the prayer book during the afternoon service:
This is the vision of a great and noble life:
To endure ambiguity and to make light shine through it;
To stand fast in uncertainty;
To prove capable of unlimited love and hope.
And it resonates inside.
Hmm… A great and noble life as one that is lived as well as possible in spite of its precariousness, in spite of our fragility. Amid the fuzzy blurred boundaries that keep changing on us without warning, and rugs that are pulled out suddenly from underneath us.
I have proven capable of unlimited love and hope. Each day I surprise myself that I continue to feel it even more. In spite of the uncertainty that comes with knowing that things can completely fall apart and come crashing down again and again.
I never before thought of my ability to bounce back as being a quality of a great and noble life. I never before related to survival that way. Yet survival is what it is, isn’t it? Isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Surviving?
Or perhaps I have actually… been… thriving…?
It is later in the afternoon and the yizkor memorial service has begun. The mood is quiet and solemn and the passage is about our finiteness, words about being on the road towards death from the moment we are born. (I close off some when I hear the words birth and death in the same sentence.) Again I start leafing through the prayer book, unsatisfied with the gloom and doom.
I find this:
May the pains of past bereavements grow more gentle;
Indeed, let them be transformed into gratitude to our dear ones who have died
And tenderness to those who are still with us.
I was so lost at this time last year. I was so angry… at everything and everyone. I cried through the entire day at our warm and wonderful Renewal congregation in Berkeley, surrounded by friends who were there at every turn to hug me and sit with me or leave me alone outside if I needed that. I didn’t fast. I felt no obligation, no inspiration.
I felt no connection to this day, so soon after Tikva had died. All I could do was picture her spinning in circles in a white dress, dancing to the music, a year later. The two of us together in a parallel universe where she had continued to live.
All I could do was cry an endless stream of angry lost tears.
Now, a year later, the pain has grown more gentle. I think of Tikva with gratitude for the gifts of hope and love she gave me, for the compassion space she cracked open and expanded within me. For asking me to love her in a way I had never before known I could love, for teaching me that hope never completely goes away, even when everything feels lost
And I think of Dahlia, who daily stretches my capacity for patience, who demands my presence, my tenderness like no one else can, who reminds me to laugh in my most frustrated and exhausted moments, and I feel gratitude for both of my daughters, the deepest kind of gratitude for the way things are.
Just as they are.
I surprise myself, that I can feel this lightness, especially today. On this day that for many is solemn and serious, reflective and laden with guilt needing to be cleared and asking for forgiveness. I surprise myself that I feel anything other than rebelliousness about Yom Kippur, this holy day I was determined to mostly blow off this year.
Then I woke up this morning and felt peaceful, held. By an energy that is comforting, serene, gentle. It didn’t matter that I was not spending the day with my community back in California, but instead in my house and at the grocery store and at services that felt mostly foreign.
It didn’t matter that I hadn’t asked anyone’s forgiveness, nor made any big plans for ways I wanted to grow and expand in the coming year.
All that mattered was that when I stepped outside to watch four monarch butterflies and two fat bumblebees holding for dear life to the white flowers as the wind blew them furiously around,
I felt connected… to all of it.
Connected to the wind, to the smells in the crisp fall air, to the bees and the butterflies, to the light streaming through their gold-orange wings…
Connected to Tikva.
Connected to my essence, the most pure and true part of me.
Connected to a deep knowing inside me that I can and will continue believing in hope and love.
Perhaps the makings of a great and noble life are that simple.
And you? How do you connect with the part deep inside that is most entirely you? Is there something bigger that helps you feel connected? How have you stretched and expanded through losing your child? What makes you recoil, contract? What helps you to feel you are thriving? What are the makings of your great and noble life?