This week's portion: birth and brotherhood
A taste of text

Life, in a nutshell

From a babynaming to a funeral in the span of 24 hours: the life cycle in a nutshell. Yesterday's babynaming was long-planned; it's been in the works for some weeks. Today's funeral, on the other hand, arose with little warning, as they often do.

There's something fascinating about preparing for these two very different events so close together. Each has its own energy, and they are very unlike one another. Yesterday morning was a standard Shabbat morning service, which at our shul means lots of singing (and, when I'm at the bimah, also guitar); today the only melody was El Malei Rachamim, the melancholy mourner's prayer, stark against the backdrop of solemn speech.

When I am officiating at a lifecycle event, I need to be firmly-planted. There's something indefinable I've found I can tap into which allows me to meet other people's joy and sorrow with equanimity. Otherwise I'm not sure I could do what I do. Helping the baby's great-grandmother with her aliyah,  or listening to the Air Force bugler play taps in the stillness, would overwhelm me with empathetic emotion.

The baby-naming was sweet. The baby gripped my finger tightly as I formally bestowed her name, and prayed aloud the wish that as she now tightly grasps our fingers, so may she grasp hold of learning to grow in knowledge and wisdom during her years of life. Then I had to jiggle my finger lightly and point out that she would need to let go if she and her parents were to return to their seats! The little one smiled at me sunnily throughout the service, and the shehecheyanu that we collectively offered was fervent and heartfelt.

The funeral was also sweet, in its way. Grief feels more private to me than joy, so I won't chronicle it here. I'll mention, instead, this which struck me again today: how strangely truncated the funeral liturgy seems. Just as we're settling in to the process of remembrance, we rise for El Malei Rachamim and the service is over. Perhaps the originators of our liturgy meant to suggest the way a life well-lived often feels truncated, too. There may be more we wanted to say, but before we know it the page is turned and we enter a new chapter, ready or not.

As I write this I am home again. I have changed back into jeans and a flannel shirt (more my usual weekend wear than the formal suit I donned this morning), and outside our windows the sky is gold and pink and grey with sunset. I'm feeling subdued, unsurprisingly; it's been a dense weekend, and the tension between these two lifecycle events has tired me out a little. But that's okay. This weekend under my hands a new life formally entered the covenant and community of which I am a part; and an old life came to its natural end, a brush with mystery I can't fully understand.

This work matters, and I am blessed to be able to do it...even if it's never entirely done. There will always be transitions to sanctify, joys to celebrate, losses to mourn. For now, I offer silent thanks for the gift of having been allowed to walk beside these two families during these days, and for the added gift of being able, now, to rest.

Technorati tags: , , .