By Rabbi Benyamin Vineburg
Chaplain Resident, Michigan Medicine
It’s 12:52AM, I have become accustom to being awake at this hour – ever since the world became so much less predictable and suddenly – quiet. For over two weeks, Coronavirus has reaped havoc on our communities, showing no bias to class gender, or economic status. Our daily routines have been shattered, we’ve been confined to our homes and uncertainty grows like the stubble on the working man’s face – who has nowhere to go, and nothing to shave for.
Continuing the shaving analogy, I contemplate the Jewish prohibition of shaving or taking a haircut when one is in mourning for the loss of a close relative. Additionally, the house of mourning becomes a place of solitude; an island of its own among the presumed normalcy of the outside world. Mourners are expected to cover their mirrors, worrying less about vanity; sit on low chairs as a sign of discomfort and refrain from normal and enjoyable activities that symbolize a normal existence. For seven days the mourners are consoled by visitors and community members – sympathizing with the for the mourner’s loss but also reaffirming the personal and communal celebration and commitment to life – and all its seasons.
We, dear friends, are in mourning. We have been confined to our own personal islands, disoriented by the loss of both spiritual and physical life as we knew it and humbled by the lack of control we were so certain we possessed. So what then? You may ask. What are we mourning? When do visitors come to comfort us? And better yet, when will this all be over?
While I do not possess definitive answers to these questions, my heart leads me to believe that truth and healing lie within the details. Let me explain. Our Sages mandated a set time for mourning with the innate understanding that people needed to escape the distractions of the world in order to create time for memorial, reflection and introspection. Mourners are thus forced to realize that life has changed and will no longer be the same. We can learn from this too. By focusing on the newness and difference that now dictates life without a ‘loved one’, we allow ourselves to prioritize and memorialize the old and then bravely step – now more mature and clearheaded- into the new.
Loss of a loved one, in our present pandemic, means something different for all of us. Whether we have physically lost someone to this disease or have otherwise felt the comfort of time and routine so harshly taken from us – the pain and loss can feel the same and is thus equally devastating. So, here we sit, low to the ground, waiting for comfort to arrive and hopefully with the traditional cake or deli tray… but not quite, not this time.
As we sit here during our analogous seven-day period of mourning, we need to ask ourselves, what have we lost? What do we regret? What or whom do we wish we could have had more time ‘with’ and how much would we give for just a little more time? For some of us that takes the shape of wishing for more time with family or loved ones. Better attention to employees or co-workers. More dedication to personal values or causes. Or less distraction by our social media sites or stock portfolios. Once we know what we have lost, only then can we again commit to properly living life.
In living life, I implore you to choose a meaningful path that encompasses a power greater than yourselves and to embrace an ethical existence that encourages positivity and love – rather than the complacency that binds us to fear and hate. Tell the people you love how much they mean to you, do acts of kindness and charity for strangers, give more and expect less – embrace the power of “we” instead of the loneliness of “me.”
History will judge us not for what happened to us but how we reacted because of it. We have the capacity to create strength from our suffering and a garden from our tears. All we have to do is own it and access it and its growth potential. It’s a time to grow and a time to act.
So go now, my friends, the hour is late, the seventh day’s sun is going down into night. What lies in store for you and all of us – tomorrow?