A Roller Coaster Called Corona
Rabbis know grief when we see it. We aren’t afraid to sit with mourners in their grief. We learn to resist the urge to talk, to fill the silences, to say cliché words of comfort that may or may not be true.
I see signs of grief on every corner of this pandemic. It was validating to read “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief” by Scott Berinato, Senior Editor at Harvard Business Review. It isn’t an easy read, because it describes hard truths, but I share it with you because I believe it might help us to see ourselves better now, to recognize why we are acting and reacting to the news of the day as we are.
Grief doesn’t travel in a straight line. We may find ourselves and those we love swinging between the stages of grief as famously articulated by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
- Denial – “COVID-19 is over there, so it’s not my concern.” Or “I’m young and healthy, so I don’t need to worry.”
- Anger – Everything from “My March Break plans were disrupted” and “My kid’s graduation is in jeopardy” to “My job is on the chopping block” and “My wife shouldn’t be forced to work at the hospital if it isn’t safe there” to “My scheduled surgery was postponed” and “People aren’t taking this seriously and putting us all at risk!”
- Depression – “I’m bored” or “I’m lonely.” “I’m scared for the people who are sick or at risk of becoming sick” and “The news makes me feel hopeless.”
- Negotiation and Making Meaning – “Now I’ll have time for a hobby, for taking an online course, for exercise, for being with my family, for prayer.”
- Acceptance/Transcendence – “This experience has pushed me to re-evaluate my priorities, my values, my relationships, my goals.” “I am stronger than I knew.” “My children are more resilient than I imagined.” “I celebrate that the earth and sea and sky have a chance to restore themselves during this pandemic.”
So let’s be patient, forgiving and generous with one another and with ourselves because we are all grieving for the confidence we had in our world just a few short weeks ago.
An Anchor Called Judaism
Just as Kohelet asserts, Judaism provides tools and texts, rituals and sacred calendar to see us through “every experience under heaven.” Just as mourners lean on our tradition to guide them through their grief, so can we all now lean on the patterns of Jewish life to steady us while we ride the roller coaster called Corona. Oftentimes congregants confide in me that they are not particularly observant, but that when grief strikes, they take great comfort in the rituals of shiva, of saying Kaddish daily, of dedicating mitzvot in memory of the one who has died. Even to their surprise, they find themselves gravitating in the direction of tradition.
Make no mistake. This is not “religion as a crutch.” This is religion as a power tool! I find our sacred texts are resonating in new ways. The Book of VaYikra, just begun this week, is more relevant in its description of impurities and infections than ever before. Soon the Pesach narrative and its countless symbols will be imbued with new meaning. Congregants are joining our daily minyan virtually, signing up for online learning opportunities, and volunteering to help with outreach calls to fellow congregants, like never before.
Why? Because when the world is shaken, we turn to Judaism which is old and lasting, stable and enduring. When we sense our own mortality, we grab hold of Jewish belief and practice that saw our ancestors through much worse. When we barely know what day it is because every day resembles the one before and after it, we welcome the uniqueness of Shabbat with even greater enthusiasm and we plan for the arrival of Pesach with even greater anticipation.
We are blessed to be inheritors of a tradition that is deep and wide, filled with endless wisdom and stores of strength. Tap into it now. It is yours for the taking.
In the words of our prayerbook:
Ashreinu! Mah Tov Chelkeinu!
uMah naim goraleinu! Umah yafah y’rushateinu!
How fortunate are we! How good is our portion!
How pleasant our destiny! How beautiful our inheritance!