Wednesday, January 09, 2008
The shiva minyan felt like we were replacing a piece of the puzzle that had come loose. Ritual during times of intense emotion is a parlor trick, the illusion of being in control--but this time I think something in the universe really did get re-set. I introduced myself to the woman who lost her father, sat down next to her on the sofa, joined in small talk, and listened as she looked straight into my eyes and shared the details of his long illness, and how the rabbi came to his side in the middle of the night and remained as he drew his last breath. Her focus shifted completely to me, and I could tell she was hiding great sadness. I am not used to being the one who sets and maintains an emotional stage; it was empowering and humbling, like walking on a tightrope. I kept my voice low and strong as we prayed, and for a few moments during the half hour could almost feel sparks of light and warmth bouncing softly around the living room and turning it into a holy place. We stood together and slowly recited the Mourner's Kaddish, syllable by syllable. Then I shook her hand and slipped out the door, because none of this was about me. It was all for the benefit of her family and their pain; my presence was utilitarian, incidental. It's strange to shift in and out of such brief, intense states of connection, and I am grateful beyond words for these few opportunities. But I have no idea how rabbis find the strength to do it on a regular basis.