“For a little while I forsake you, But with vast love, I will bring you back. In slight anger, for a moment, I hid my face from you; but with kindness everlasting, I will take you back in love.” (Isaiah 54:7-10)
More than life cycle events, a chaplain attends to the events of life. More than tears accompanying simchas, a chaplain bears witness to tears of suffering. More than responding expeditiously to the completion of a plan, the chaplain patiently holds space for the unfolding of healing, for God’s will to be done.
In the past year, many have felt forsaken by God, hidden behind the fog of chaos. God has been out of reach, while our society’s sense of order has been repeatedly disrupted by an unending pandemic.
Isaiah’s words comfort us as we prepare to rise before God in reverence and prayer. However, these High Holidays coincide with much destruction and the burdens of reconfiguration weigh upon the hearts of our elders. Many have cried over the loss of a loved one, the loss of precious life minutes spent in pandemic-driven isolation, the loss of physical ability, the loss of human touch. Many have cried over a life that has lost its meaning and over meaningful things taken from them.
Pandemic times have put a wrench in the sacred and beautiful, twisting joy into sorrow. The sadness has been real and relentless, with a depth and a poignancy that defies prescriptive interventions. Instead, human interaction mitigates the pain. An open heart and tender ear lift the gravity of the moment, reminding the suffering one of God’s love and hope for better days.
Rather than fast forwarding to locate the comedy channel, the chaplain stops, attends to the drama, the static, the disconnections of a station in transition, in need of repair.
It has been a very challenging year. We had hoped for better by now and many made plans based upon that hope. However, the realities of the pandemic and old problems will continue into the new year — increased restrictions on visitations, trips and activities. For those aging in place, time has tremendous value because there is potentially less of it. Ongoing restrictions protect health, yet siphon off precious life minutes. Even though some find coping with more time and less to do easier than others, all would agree the current resurgence of COVID cases and perpetual concerns with safety have been erosive.
Within these circumstances, our elders understand the Talmudic dictum: “Zeh v’ Zeh” — “There is this and also this.”
For months, I have heard declarations: I want to see and to be seen; I want to give and receive; I want to be of value and to make a difference; I want to laugh, again; I want to love.
On the other hand, I have also heard this: I am so grateful for where I live, for the gift of life, for my loved ones and my growing family; I am so grateful to experience awe and daily miracles; I am so thankful that I still have my determination and courage; I am abundantly grateful for humor when life is hard; I am so grateful to discover common ground with others who grieve for uncommon reasons; I am grateful for developing new skills and opportunities to share what I have learned over my lifetime.
Zeh v’ Zeh: There is this thing that is undesirable and difficult, generating want, but there is also this other thing that is positive and sustaining.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, we reflect upon the complex year that has been lived. Indeed, COVID has activated the pause button on our lives, creating a unique opportunity for introspection. We have been forced to confront the unvarnished present. We have practiced and practiced mining moments for meaning. We have tamed our wild presence in ways that assure we will never miss a precious moment, again. We notice the butterfly. We hear the wind. We savor our food. We feel for others.
As these concentrated moments coalesce, forming the currency of fulfillment, we surrender our earnings to the Holy One for another chance.
During our group meetings at Sun Health, we have been identifying and unpacking vital questions: How have we done? What has been accomplished? Why are we here? Why are others not here? What could we do differently? How are things different? What is missing? What matters?
Answers hang in midair, awaiting resonance with truth. Once each person’s truth is grasped, the embryo of change awaits to connect our new year to Creation, stories across generations, along with the Divine capacity for healing ourselves and our world.
Today, we do not have Moses calling our people in the wilderness brought upon by a pandemic, but we do have a history of calling out to the God of our understanding, in distress. We can hear Moses’ cry: “El na refah na la!” — Heal her! Heal him! Heal them! Heal us, now!
As we identify essential questions and declare our intentions for healing, we make room for uncomfortable, inconvenient, unattractive feelings and contaminated thoughts. Once recognized, they are liberated and reconfigured in the enchanted vessel that melts what is hard, mends what is torn or broken. Strength can be renewed, clarity restored, burdens lifted.
We begin to forge an unfamiliar, yet friendly path forward, where artifacts give way to opportunities. During this time of transformation, we are poised for God to take us back and we remember that we are B’tselem Elohim. In God’s image, we bestow kindness. In God’s image, we promote love.
And the chaplain holds the dream for a new day, for more days, for a better year. JN
Rabbi Mindie Snyder serves as the rabbi and chaplain for Sun Health Communities.