Back when I was in college, Ethan and I used to wake up well before dawn twice a year to drive to Boonton, New Jersey for shiai. Shiai was a combination family reunion, master class, and day-long boot camp. It was the biannual gathering of the extended clan of the dojo where we used to train, hosted by the man we called Shihan, the sensei of our sensei. Every year we piled into our cars and drove the few hours there to gather with the rest of the community for fellowship and learning.
Shiai was also where belt tests happened. Well, really belt tests in our school happened slowly over time; by the time sensei told us we were up for a new rank, he already knew we were ready. But the belt test was designed to make sure we knew it, too -- an opportunity to feel ourselves grow into the new role we were about to be asked to assume. Shiai was a challenge on all sorts of levels: the drive in the early-morning dark, the long day of workouts and sparring, looking inwards for reserves of physical and emotional strength we'd never quite tapped before.
I was thinking of that this morning when I woke well before dawn to drive to New Jersey. Though instead of my old white gi, my uniform today was my basic black suit, and my responsibility today was only to be present and to mourn a member of my extended mishpacha. As I drove down I thought, too, about the trip I made to New Jersey last spring to welcome two babies into religious community and into the world. That trip and today's trip feel like mirror images. Sanctifying and celebrating moments of transition, life beginning and life coming to its end.
During the funeral today, the rabbi mentioned that his favorite way to translate the word neshama (usually rendered "soul") is "spark." The sparks of God in each of us don't come into existence ex nihilo when we're born, and they don't disappear when we die. The man we buried this afternoon (may his memory be a blessing) is no longer among the living, but his neshama endures.
I wasn't able to call in to my tele-davenen group this morning, but I davened shacharit at 8am along with them from afar. I saw sunrise on the road; I saw sunset on the road, too, and davened a quick ma'ariv at the wheel as the late rays painted the hilltops purple. As I sang, I felt the voices of my ALEPH chevre in my ears and in my heart. I pictured their faces, their voices, their laughter; their presence enlivened my prayer, even though we're apart. For that matter, it's more than ten years since Ethan and I left our dojo, but those relationships and that learning still reverberate in me too.
The sparks of our souls endure, and so do the connections between them. The naming of those twin boys last year is still a bright explosion of connections and love, radiating outward and inward. The funeral I attended this afternoon is, too, in its way. So are those shiai gatherings I used to attend, which resonate in me even though I'm not going twice a year any more. So are the retreats that make up DLTI, even though I'm finished with that program now too.
The Hebrew word olam connotes both "world" and "forever."
Space, and chronology. "World enough, and time." It seems to me that the connections between us endure l'olam va'ed, "forever and ever," throughout spacetime, just as God does. Maybe because God is in those connections, in the places where our neshamot meet.