Tuesday, January 08, 2008

592. Like a seder

Tomorrow evening I'm leading another shiva minyan. I wasn't really nervous before others I've led, but did feel unsure both technically (will I remember the evening nusah?) and emotionally (will I sound empathetic and comforting, or just sad and insecure?).

But tonight I'm--at peace, for lack of a better metaphor that doesn't suggest final resting places. Although my loss this summer was nowhere nearly as traumatic as others I've endured, it is newer; death is closer. I don't mean to sound grim, but that whole foggy business of disbelief and rushed airplane trips and awkward hugs with strange relatives and tears and remembering desperately so you won't forgot but knowing you will--it is still nearby and feeding on itself like a bonfire that refuses to stop smoking. So I can walk into the shiva house and be better aware, less afraid, of the family's pain than if mine were long ago. I now feel a little more equipped to pretend I understand the landscape.

I was again struck, while practicing weekday Arvit, by how well it describes hol--daily, non-Shabbat life. The meloldies are simple, repetitive, and in a minor key, but each phrase ends in major: evening (contemplative) and morning (happier, lighter, sounds), another day. Just as Monday flows through Tuesday and continues in a blur, the vexed and unsettled bits of tune resolve and then move on.

If the time feels right after everyone shares stories, I'll say a few words about next week's parasha, Bo. Such agonies--enslaved Israelites, Egyptians tortured by the wrath of God, miserable, hard-hearted Pharaoh. But at the end of all this suffering, God commands us to mark the day with a communal festival--one so important that if we forget, we are to be cut off from all Israel (Exodus 12:5). I think God is saying that after pain, we need each other; isolated, we won't survive. I will wish for the family in this house of shiva a week of companionship as powerful, enduring, and healing as that first meal together after we became free people, and all the seders that followed.

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