From last week's writing class, another 10-minute essay exercise. Topic: healing yourself while healing another:
As a member of the Hevra Kadisha, all I had to do was show up at a shiva minyan when needed. It terrified me; I hated it. I was afraid to breathe in those rooms of pain. And I was also afraid that any word, offered even in the nicest and most neutral way, would take me back to the four uncles and four aunts and two cousins and two parents who left their lives over a remarkably short number of years, and would force me to remember strained conversations and the impression that all families and friends of mourners wanted to do was eat. My first act upon walking into a shiva home was to identify the location of the cold cuts, in case I needed a quick escape.
But after attending a few minyans, I began to sense that middle place my rabbi explained we were entering, a strange zone between life and death where memories melt and flame until only the best are refined and remain to shine. I learned to sit on the edge of the sofa waiting for the story of this one's true love, that one's passion and humor in life. I learned that my presence as a listener made it possible for the teller of the story to extend the life of the person who died, and change pain in some small way from acute to slow and steady, and livable. And when I found myself on the other side of the room as the storyteller, I felt the energy and embrace of the listeners keep me breathing, as well.