The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
The Right Way to Mourn
What's the right way to mourn? Is it OK to be checking out a row of two appealing couples of women sitting behind us during Shacharit services at Yom Kippur? Is it all right to be resenting every older person I see among the congregation for being alive while my mother (z"l) is not?
How about leaving Yom Kippur services right after Yizkor, the service where we honor dead family, and skipping the rest? Can I blame that on my grief? Last year, my mother (z"l) was with us for Yizkor, so there was no question that we'd be leaving right afterwards, since she was older and said she could not sit for that long.
Feeding My Demons vs. Myself
One of our two rabbinical interns, Ruhi Sophia Rubenstein, delivered a drash (sermon) this morning that talked of feeding, rather than trying to starve, our demons. She recounted the story of Plimo and Satan from Ein Yaakov: The Ethical and Inspirational Teachings of the Talmud.
She gave an example of the danger of trying, say, to thwart the urge to gossip. Instead, she suggested, those who love to gossip can look at what it is about themselves that loves information and stories.
I'm not sure I can have an I-Thou relationship with any of my demons, or how I'd prioritize their presence. One of my demons, as I've come to see it, is sugar. I've not eaten any refined sugar, honey, fructose, barley malt, molasses, rice syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, jaggery, brown sugar or sugar substitutes like saccharin or Splenda... for more than 20 years, ever since I realized that I felt allergic to it and it made me feel super-unhealthy. Same with alcohol, which turns right into sugar. And then 10 years ago, an ENT specialist, Dr. Kenneth Brookler, suggested that in my particular case, I could not tolerate most stuff that turns into sugar, including flour, potatoes, rice, corn, and sweeter nuts and fruits, like pecans, macadamias, figs, dates, pineapple, grapefruit, mango, melon...so I stopped eating those foods, too.
How ironic would it be if dafke (for precise spite) on Yom Kippur, I went ahead and fed my demon itself? How have I not done that on Yom Kippur, since 1990? I've not eaten sugar on Yom Kippur by not fasting. I've eaten three meals a day with nothing in between, just like I do every day because I don't ever want to be so ravenous that I grab whatever's closest, which could be something sugary.
Grief Is a Gift
Ruhi made another suggestion that moved me earlier today, asking that instead of "beating" our hearts with our fist, as the liturgy suggests we do during the "Al Chet", we simply knock on them gently, each knock, hoping that our heart will open a bit more.
This suggestion, to knock on our hearts, struck me additionally as a way to wake up my heart. During my physical recently, I learned that I have Right Bundle Branch Block (RBBB), which means that sometimes, my heart beats a bit too slowly. Today, I felt like each knock was an attempt to pep up my heart to full wakefulness.
If my heart were not just fully open, but also fully awake, I think I would feel -- all the time -- like I did when the miraculous Sally Wilfert sang one of our congregant, William Finn's, "Anytime (I Am There)" from his "Elegies". You can hear it for yourself from her by going to ~5:30 of this beautiful video. My wife Pat & I were fortunate to run into Sally Wilfert as she headed toward a bathroom after her performance and I didn't detain her long -- just long enough to squeeze her hand and say, "Thank you for making it possible for me to cry." She smiled luminously and with kindness.
While Rabbi Kleinbaum encouraged us just prior to Yizkor that numbness is also a feeling, nothing's as cleansing as a good cry when I feel sad (and nothing like a good laugh when I'm happy, and also, sometimes when I'm sad, too). Of course, such strong feelings are enervating, so I'm beat now and most of me just wants to lie down and fall asleep...but I recall Ruhi's encouragement to wake up my heart, so I need the rest of me to stay awake, too.
"Sarah Must Have Smiled"
I've been writing about feeling sad here, yet the sun has come out while I've been blogging. Whenever the weather turned from gloomy to sunny, my mother (z"l) always used to say, "Sarah must have smiled." Maybe I smiled for a moment a bit ago, recalling one of the lyrics from "Anytime (I Am There)", "Anytime you wash your hands/ I'll be around." I'm 49 and to this day, any time my mom (z"l) saw me emerge from a bathroom, reflexively, she asked, "Did you wash your hands?" I guess now, she won't need to, since she is there "anytime [I] wash [my] hands".