Prepent 5774: Day 16, Confronting Grief
Looking inward in the days leading up to the High Holidays
Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.
This Friday, as the sun sets over Jerusalem, my mother will light shabbat candles for the last time in the house that our family has been calling home for almost 30 years. Next week, in time for the new year, my parents will move to a beautiful nearby apartment; carefully designed, with no stairs–golden-years friendly. It’s a good and necessary move but also a heart-wrenching goodbye, bringing up a sense of grief and loss for all of us: the end of an era.
Grief comes up for me today, on this Prepenting journey, as I take the time to pause and feel what’s in my heart, what this year has been about, how to say thank you and goodbye, and how to get ready for what’s next.
For some of you reading, I know grief is a daily reality. Can these last days of the year help bring about closure, support our sadness as we struggle to honor what was and ponder what the future brings? All of us, at some point, have to say farewell to people, pets, places, high hopes, and great expectations. This is part of life.
We often choose to let grief knock on our door and only then deal with its tidings, but I invite you to join me today in taking a few minutes to confront sadness and the feeling of farewell, full of gratitude for every gift, no matter how hard the loss.
These are also the blessings of the year that was, and are sometimes in disguise. I’ve been reading Alan Lew’s book, This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared, a profound guidebook to these days of awe. Lew, of blessed memory, charts the journey from the fast day of the Ninth of Av earlier this summer to the ending of Yom Kipppur in just a few weeks. This journey echoes our human path, from that which is broken and shattered to the ongoing reconstruction of our lives. On the Ninth of Av we honor the memory of the destroyed temple and as soon as Yom Kippur is done we start rebuilding the temporary sanctuary of the sukkah.
Grief, Lew writes, guides our journey inwards, into a higher sense of self in the world. Letting go of what was is part of the process:
I wonder how many of us are holding on very hard to some piece of personal history that is preventing us from moving on with our lives, and keeping us from those we love…
The natural event connected to Tisha B’Av is the height of summer, the fullness of the year…The days reach their full length and begin to shorten. Fullness and decline are intimately linked. The end of one is the beginning of the other. Conversely, decline and destruction necessarily precede renewal; tearing down is necessary before rebuilding is possible. And all these things— fullness, decline, destruction, renewal, tearing down, rebuilding— are actually part of the same process, points on a single continuum, consecutive segments of a never-ending circle. The time between Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur, this great seven-week time of turning, is the time between the destruction of Jerusalem— the crumbling of the walls of the Great Temple— and our own moral and spiritual reconstruction. The year has been building itself up, and now it begins to let go— the natural cycle of the cosmos, the rise and fall, the impermanence and the continuity, all express themselves in this turning.
Upon this third Sabbath of the Prepent journey, I invite you to say Amen with me to my mother’s blessing over sacred time and sacred space, in awe of transitions, of our amazing ability to handle them; welcoming grief’s blessing of perspective, and opening the door, with gratitude, to what is yet to come.
Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.
Writers Julius and Philip Epstein are also forebears of baseball’s Theo Epstein