Religion & Beliefs

Chesed, Awe, Surprises and Parsha Alignment

I am always amazed when a something in life matches up so perfectly with a something in a parsha and I can't help but note a striking, sometimes eerie, similarity. Today, I heard about a truly horrifying tragedy and was … Read More

By / October 31, 2007

I am always amazed when a something in life matches up so perfectly with a something in a parsha and I can't help but note a striking, sometimes eerie, similarity. Today, I heard about a truly horrifying tragedy and was simultaneously sad to hear it, in awe of how to human body can turn on itself, and heartened to see chesed in action, in the most dire of moments, especially from the person at the center of the issue.

As we take a look at the parsha this week, we see Sarah Imeinu, and just as we meet up with her again, at the end of her very long life, she dies. And, we are led to believe Sarah's life was described as a very good one. For years that seemed off to me. Good? Sure, there was a grand share of mostly positive action on her part, but still, she faced long journeys, famine, kidnapping, infertility, fear of Ishmael trying to corrupt her son, then having to banish Ishmael… um, seems like a lot. So, the reference to Sarah's life being a good one, well, it didn't make sense to me for a long time.

But, the older I get, the more things I learn the hard way, and the more people I come to know with a marvelously good outlook, the more I think I overlooked a very obvious possibility. Maybe Sarah did have a good life because of the way she opted to look at life…?

A woman I first met when I worked with her over a decade ago has really had more than her share of heartache. In the span of about eight months, her teenage son was murdered, she found his body, her daughter sustained severe head injuries in a car accident and required permanent care, her home was robbed of almost everything and her insurance company kind of gave her the runaround, then her husband was injured and went on disability, then her father died, then her best friend died. I'm not making that up. I spoke with her often during those times to see how she was managing. She cried often, of course, and she talked about grieving and learning a lesson about overall happiness. Come again? A lesson about overall happiness in the face of all that? But she did. She said to me one day that the distinction that became clear to her was that she no longer looked at her life in terms of positive times versus negative times, but instead took her entire life for what is was, moment by moment, and didn't bother to categorize it or label any of it– she took moments of grief for what they were, not trying to stifle them, not trying to look on the bright side, she'd just accept them as they came and "grieve hard, cry it out and get down to the bottom" in the moments, and (and this, she said was key) in doing so, in telling herself to "grieve hard, cry it out and get down to the bottom" the other side of the moment was implied. And, with an implied better moment ahead, she felt she had more space to live in feelings as they arose while also reassuring herself of a safety, a balance, an order, even when everything was uncertain. And, and, and, odd as that might seem at first, I suppose what it really boiled down to was maintaining a sense of something that fell between hope and balance. "Please! Not talking would be way worse! I refuse to let conversations become uncomfortable!" she'd say when potentially painful topics popped up and were facing being tip-toed around, and moved forward in these conversations with a wonderful sense of emotional clarity.

We're only human, of course, and often it's easier to ignore the painful things in life and immerse ourselves in denial in order to cope, sometimes even focusing on the "bright side" at the expense of processing the thoughts and feelings surrounding the upset. But she just faced things as they came, sat in the moment and whatever emotion it brought about, and experienced it so fully that she was able to process her emotions and thoughts clearly and completely and honestly, and therefore, was able to see both the painful and the delightful and appreciate and be in awe of both.