Three Funerals and a Wedding

“Our life is a walk in the night, we know not how great the distance to the dawn that awaits us. And the path is strewn with stumbling blocks and our bodies are grown tyrannous with weeping yet we lift our feet. We lift our feet.”  —Rachel Kadish in The Weight of Ink (p. 51)

For the most part, I ignore the daily notifications from Facebook Memories. I’m aware there’s a way to stop them altogether, but I can’t be bothered to do it. 

I celebrate my being unmotivated to change, because on Friday afternoon when I open the Facebook app on my phone, this excerpt from Rachel Kadish’s book and a link to this blog post from one year ago fill my screen. I click on it to read my tribute to Marvin Cohen, of blessed memory, whose family got up from sitting shiva on February 14, 2019, and took a walk around the block. I sit in my car in the parking lot outside OrangeTheory Fitness—I’ve arrived 20 minutes early for class—and I cry.

My tears are not only for Marvin and for the 17 victims of the shooting in Parkland. I cry for the family I met the day before, who are preparing to bury their beloved father and grandfather. Just before driving to the gym, I printed out the eulogy I will share and the prayers we will recite at his funeral on Sunday.

My Friday afternoon workout, which gets me home just before candle lighting and Shabbat dinner, is all about leaving the stress of the previous week on the treadmill. I drive home, my body drained of sorrow, and I’m ready to welcome the sabbath in joy. 

By the end of the sabbath, everything changes. Within 36 hours my friend witnesses her mother’s last breath; within 48 hours, after accompanying one bereaved daughter at the burial of her father, I speak to a grief-stricken son who was not present to witness his mother’s last breath; and within 72 hours I meet him and his brother, and their mother’s caregivers to listen to stories about her life and to offer them guidance in planning her funeral, which will take place on Sunday. 

I’ll miss my Friday workout this week because my flight from Philadelphia will get me home just before candle lighting and Shabbat dinner. By Sunday, I will have been to three funerals, two here in Atlanta where I serve in my professional and pastoral role as rabbi, and one in the suburbs of Philadelphia where I will mourn alongside my friend.

And what about the wedding, you ask. 

For the 48 hours, I am in the suburbs of Philadelphia, when I’m not sitting shiva with my friend, I’ll be staying in the guest room of another friend recently engaged to be married. I couldn’t be happier for him and his beloved, who are visiting venues and trying to secure a wedding date in early September, just before Rosh Hashanah. This week, amidst the sorrow, I’m looking forward to my next trip to Philadelphia, when I will cry tears of joy. 

This week, even as my body grows tyrannous with weeping, I’ll remind myself and those beside me to breathe, to rely on one another as we lift our feet, and to be fully present in this moment. 

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