Friday, May 24, 2013

Finding Inner Strength

It was not that long ago that I found myself in a downward spiral that lasted for about a month. No matter what I did, I just couldn't break the spiral. Anytime I took a positive step forward, an even bigger challenge or mistake would immediately follow. All of the emotions that went with the fall just added to perpetuating the cycle.

I managed to find a way to catch myself just enough to end the free fall. Then something strange happened. I kept getting compliments about how strong I was and what a great job I was doing. Those comments helped give me the strength to help pull myself back up again. The comments about being strong kept coming. After receiving this compliment I turned to a friend and told them they were crazy. I couldn't understand why anyone was telling me I was strong. I responded that anything I have done has been because a) I don't have a choice b) I am drawing my strength from the people who care about me. They insisted that my strength is only coming from within. Most people know they would crumble if they had to live the last 2.5 years of my life.

Since then my thoughts have been drifting to the day we lost Gabi.  That night I came home, so I could go in to speak to the school first thing in the morning. I was home alone all night for the first time in probably 7 years. I sat down and cried, calling out the words of Yirmiyahu that the Jewish people have been crying out for almost 2000 years. איכה -- How could it be? How could this possibly happen? At that point I decided I would need to be strong for Rachel and Channah. Everything else was secondary.

Rachel questioned God and her beliefs from every angle. She battled with concepts that God is simply not fair to trying to make herself a better person that maybe this time she would finally fulfill her dreams of leaving a hospital with a new born baby in her arms. On Rosh Ha Shannah/Yom Kippor this year she stood in judgment with complete confidence. She had spent an entire year working on putting aside grudges and making herself a better person.

From time to time Rachel would ask why I wasn't questioning my beliefs. Sometimes it was meant to be criticism. Sometimes it was intended as admiration or even envy. My answer was always the same. My beliefs are all I have and if I question them, I will end up falling apart. I needed to be strong and hold my family together.

In the last almost 5 months my head has gone to some very scary places. I have had plenty of time to come face to face with the big philosophical questions. There is no doubt I have been less enthusiastic or even 2nd guessing the value of various Mitzvot. Then a funny thing happens. Something I learn or remember learning or just seeing something in practise helps me reconnect my thoughts and I once again feel like I am in sync with my belief system. It just needs to be redefined and understood on a deeper level to appreciate the nuances.

We live in an age where there is a tremendous amount of nevuah in the world. Everywhere you turn, there are people who can explain why various things happened.  There have been some real shameful ones this month. Every month, new segulas are coming out all the time, all you need to do to get what you want, is hang this piece of clothing from a particular tree or say a particular prayer in a particular spot while hopping on one foot and doing the hokey pokey. Of course these things are hard so we don't even need to do them ourselves. At the end of Shiva I even had someone suggest I should get my Mezzuzahs checked as if somehow a little bit of ink could have prevented me from losing half of my immediate family in less than 2 years.

We learn that if we keep the Mitzvot God will take care of us. Yet, we find poor people. We learn that nothing bad can happen from you on your way and on your return home. Yet, we were once in a car accident on our way home from a wedding because we decided to stay longer to be Sameach the Chattan & Kallah. One time I was given Kvatter, the father could have spit in my face and it would have been less humiliating then how I was treated. I will never forget the look on Rachel's face when she realized that the raw ruby Rachel had worn from the moment she found out she was pregnant did not save Gabi's life.

Where do I get my strength? My religion, my beliefs, my faith, are not about doing good things and your life will be great. It is about living your life, doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Life is going to have ups and downs. We break a glass at a wedding, so that the joy of the celebrations to not get too far out of hand. When we deal with tragedy we still have to pick ourselves up if not for ourselves but for those around us. I could not come along as far as I have without my family, friends and community that have helped along the way.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Stay Up All Night, For Tommorow We Sleep

Every mile stone on the calendar is an emotional struggle.  I was bracing myself for a very difficult Shavuot. The pasuk on Rachel's headstone is from Megilat Rut. Shavuot has many great memories for me both for my personal growth but time with Rachel. I started doing the all night learning before I became Shomer Shabbat and I have been doing it most years with few exceptions. There were times where times as a teenager the learning was diverted to spend time with Rachel. Last year, I kept running back and forth from shul to home to check on Rachel to make sure she was OK.

I know many people do not stay up all night for various reasons, which is fine with me. This is the first year that I can recall people being actively critical of the minhag.  As usual, I surrounded myself with good people for the meals. I didn't have the heart to try to make sleeping arrangements, so I could go learn.  10 minutes before the Rabbi's shiur started my hostess for dinner offered to take Channah for the night. I was thrilled to be able to learn.

The shul was a lot more full than in previous years. I went to my usual learning marathon with the Rabbi. He covers 6 topics (one from each seder of Mishnah/Gemara). As always there is not enough time to cover all of them so as the night goes on there is less time to cover the later topics. This year's topics were: Minhag of Tearing Kriya, Minhag of Staying up all night and learning, When does a Kallah cover her hair, lifnei iver,  glatt kosher, and another one that is escaping my memory.  Basically the first 3 were in depth and the last 3 were done in 45 minutes. Of course the 15 minute each allocation didn't work leaving 5 minutes for the Glatt topic.

Tearing Kriya-  It was interesting going over the source for breaking a glass under Chuppah as well as the people who tried to overdo mourning the Mikdash. The halacha seems clear that if you do not go to the Kotel for 30 days you tear Kriyah. However, there is a minhag that Jerusalemites don't. The main source cited for the minhag is from the ridbaz who condemns the minhag. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach has some very interesting comments, including justifying the minhag by saying those who live in Jerusalem and don't go to the Kotel every 30 days, don't deserve to tear Kriyah because they don't feel the mourning. Considering how often I go to the cemetery to visit Rachel it was interesting to think about how we should be internalizing the pain of the loss of the Mikdash.

Staying Up All Night -- Staying up and learning really is problematic because of the effect it has on the next day. I have friends who did back to back all nighters so they could watch the Leaf's blow Game 7 against Boston. The Rabbi was relying on the minhag (which is not well sourced), accepting the Rambam half day learning can take place in the afternoon instead of the morning.  He personally goes home before Kriyat HaTorah so he can get some sleep so that he can have Kavanah for the rest of devaning.

Kallah covering her hair after Chuppah -- A married woman covers her hair. There are very opinions on to how early the 'married' status kicks in. Rav Ovadiah pulls in 4 factors that allows her to wait until she goes home, most importantly the lack of Yichud room at Sephardi weddings. The Rabbi was still struggling to figure out how to justify the common practise of waiting until the next morning.  Through the shiur he mad some interesting distinctions between minimum halachic standards and what one should do depending on an individual circumstances.

I can't remember that last time I had that much energy during learning and davening Shavuot night.. Between eating, sleeping and learning,  I didn't have an opportunity to stop and think. Nor even during Yizkor as they were even calling people back in before I finished struggling my way through what I needed to say.

The end result was I made it through Shavuot OK. Today I had a much harder day.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Day of Solitude

I knew today was going to be tough. I planned my day out to basically be by myself with no expectations. Channah had even decided to go to a friend's house straight from school, so I didn't even see her until dinner time. When I first woke up my reaction was that it felt just like an ordinary day.  Then I stopped for a moment and realized my heart was feeling numb, as my head wondered to the first of many memories that filled up my day.

May 7th, 1998. It was Rachel's last birthday before our wedding. As the night went on I started running a fever that kept going up and up. Eventually, I ended up in the ER, where they kept me in a cold room for a number of hours until my temperature started to go down and they sent me home.  For 2 nights Rachel slept in a chair in my room, so she could look after me.  For my parents it was the changing of the guard as Rachel would be the primary person for watching out for my well being for the rest of her life. Over the years birthdays (along with other special occasions) were always hit and miss for me. Sometimes, I would find the perfect gift and find the perfect way to celebrate.  More often than not I would fail miserably. How I wish I could have one more birthday.

I went to the cemetery this morning. When people come visit, there is often a point about how much construction and building is going on.  The same thing happens every time I go to the cemetery.  The new section is pretty big and it looks like they have dug up a few hundred plots. At least there has been some progress on the spelling mistake.  The "I" has been chiselled into a "Y". They did a pretty good job doing it. All they need to do is fill in the black and I can pay the balance I have been withholding.

For so long since Gabi couldn't be with Rachel, Rachel wanted to be with Gabi or at the very least have someone else to help fill the hole in her heart. It just gives me something to think about as I battle through the emunah and bitachon questions, looking for some type of consolation. I told Rachel that at some point down the road there would be some perspective and her loss would make sense.  I was clearly wrong on that one. I spoke to her for a little while. It was kind of eerie being just me and the construction workers. It was also the first time I cried that my eye didn't hurt. My doctor was impressed by how well it is healing.  Although it did hurt when I started crying later in the day.

I watched two movies today. Anastasia was always our movie. I would have proposed the night we saw it, if Rachel hadn't decided last minute to invite a friend along who was feeling lonely. I watched Les Miserables, which Rachel had really been looking forward to seeing. There were a couple of phone calls. The rest of the day was nothing special.  Just time to for reflection and getting lost in my thoughts.

Channah hasn't really been expressing her feelings towards Rachel's loss. She did ask her teacher to stop Halacha Yomit class today.  Apparently they were learning Avelut. Her request was denied but apparently she wasn't paying attention in class.  Not sure if that was with or without the teachers approval.

I knew today would be hard and I think I found the right way to deal with it. As the clock ticks closer and closer to midnight and another day, I am starting to feel like I am ready to face the world once again.