On grief and moving forward
November 09, 2016
This morning I presided over a funeral for a beloved member of my congregation. It was hard to shake the sense that many of us were mourning not only that loss, but also the loss of a vision of our nation as a place of hope and inclusion. Even those who are happy with yesterday's outcome may be feeling shaken by the reminder of how stark are the divisions within our nation.
To everyone who is feeling grief today, I say: it is okay to feel how you are feeling. Whatever you are feeling, take permission to feel it. Let yourself grieve.
Take comfort in what you can: the presence of friends or family, whatever sweetness or kindness you can find, a cup of coffee, the fact that the sun rose this morning.
Recognize that grief comes and goes in its own rhythms. So, too, does healing. Be gentle with yourself today and in days to come. Be gentle with those you encounter.
When grief is strong, it can seem impossible to imagine that one will ever feel differently. But this is not all there is. Loss is not all there is. Grief is not all there is.
Jewish tradition wisely instructs mourners to retreat from the world for a week. The customs of shiva are designed to insulate mourners from the hard edges of the outside world. They remind us to take the time we need to tell stories, to remember, and to grieve.
At the end of shiva, there is a custom of leaving one's house through one door, walking around the block, and then entering the house through a different door. We will emerge from our grief changed by the experience of the grieving. We will exit what was and enter into something new.
In this week's Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, God calls Avram to leave his home and go forth into the place that God will show him. The opening words are often translated as "Go forth," but they can also be understood to mean "Go into yourself." Like Avram, we too are called to journey deep into ourselves, to dedicate ourselves to the spiritual work of becoming.
Avram had to leave everything that was familiar. He too must have felt that he had lost his narrative about who he thought he was and what he thought was ahead of him. But somehow he found the strength for the journey, and so will we.
We may need to grieve, but we must resist despair. Despair is corrosive, and it denies our agency and our ability to create change.
We can cultivate hope. We can build a better world. We owe it to ourselves and to those who will come after us to continue trying to build a world of justice and lovingkindness, a world in which no one need fear abuse or mistreatment, a world in which diversities of all kinds -- of race and creed and sexual orientation -- are honored and celebrated. A world in which the vulnerable are protected. A world in which bigotry and hatred vanish like smoke, and generosity of spirit and compassion prevail.
In this moment I don't know how we will do that. I don't know what steps we will take or how they will get us where we need to go. But I know that this is the journey to which we are called, and that we will journey together.
You may find comfort, as I did, in this from Rabbi David Evan Markus: The Day After.
Cross-posted to my congregational blog.