During a season where happiness and celebration should be utterly ubiquitous, there seems to be a shroud of sadness threatening to suffocate the joy. As I drove down the empty street through the plethora of Christmas lights and candles in the windows, I let out a heavy sigh having had just about enough of death and sadness for one week. However, I guess, like all challenges in life there’s always a lesson to be learnt and a message to be heard — I’m just not sure I have the fortitude to learn any more lessons or hear any more messages.
With the gloomy and cloudy night sky blanketing my neighborhood, my car cut through the cold air as I arrived home after having attended a Shiva Minyan for a member of our community whose father just recently passed away. In my role as President of the Synagogue, I have taken on the responsibility of attending at least one Shiva Minyan for each synagogue member who experiences a loss of a loved one. Shiva, meaning seven in Hebrew, marks the weeklong period of mourning following the death of a family member. The Minyan is the prayer service during this period, which usually takes place at the home of a mourner, in which the community comes together for prayer and to provide comfort to those in need. This practice, which I have adopted, started as something I faced with great trepidation and unease yet has surprisingly evolved into something both poignant and spiritually uplifting.
So when I stood praying in the home of the mourner that evening, I glanced out the window into the dark night and saw the glowing street and thought about what a difference a week makes. It was only 11 days earlier that we began the eight day celebration of Chanukah; lighting one additional candle each night of the holiday. However, beginning with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last Friday, it’s as if the eight candles are now being systematically snuffed out one at a time with the grey smoke from the extinguished flames swimming up in to the air and vanishing into the emptiness.
In my volunteer capacity within the community, I experience on Tuesday the death of an esteemed professor at a prominent local college. A brilliant man and an expert in his field, he authored numerous books and papers. He paradoxically, spent the last days of his life in the throes of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
Finally, just a day ago, my son shared with me the news of the loss of one of his fellow fraternity brothers who tragically and suddenly passed away. I didn’t think there would be more room for sadness. Although, I guess when such events happen, like exhausted parents lying in bed in the middle of the night with a pleading frightened young child at their side, you always find the room.
So, today, as the sun brought forth another day I attempted to push the sadness behind me and move towards that happiness that is present in the natural course of being alive. With the continued news reports on how the country is reeling from the events in Connecticut, the tweets from my son’s fellow fraternity brothers, and another visit to the house of mourning it seemed finding the joy in life was going to be somewhat challenging. But what I discovered throughout the day was that if you refocus your attention on the positive and inherent happiness that can be found in even the most devastating of tragedies you can sweep away the sorrow and find not only happiness and joy but abundant love too.
So, as I immersed myself again in Internet articles about the incident in Connecticut, I focused on the heroism and the stories of the wonderful children who made a difference in their world during their short lived lives. Then in a moment, it occurred to me that just around the corner were the souls of those children mingled with the souls of the children playing, laughing, and learning at the elementary school in my own neighborhood. Similar kids, similar stories, and just as special with parents now hugging them a little bit longer. This knowledge certainly helped alleviate some of the sadness that was brought forth by the death of some many people that I never knew.
I then turned to the tweets of my son and his friends and read of support and strength of very strong and mature young men. Particularly my son’s tweet of, “Really puts things in perspective. Be thankful for the life you live every day” says it all.