In December of 2007, my cohort of loss bloggers and I unleashed our dark humor on the calendar. For the most part, we agreed that 2007 could go f*ck itself. We’d seen a lot of pain that year, collectively. We had a litany of reasons for why the year sucked, and lists of what could definitely go better in 2008.
Of course, 2008 sucked just as much, and even more, for some people. Some we knew, some we didn’t. And 2007 couldn’t entirely suck for me–Samuel was born in December–cementing my mixed relationship with grief, and for that matter, pregnancy. Long years, short years, bad years, good years. They’re all happening at once, for all of us.
We are currently in the week between Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year/New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Because of the way the Jewish calendar year works, it has only been about 11 and a half months on the Gregorian calendar since last Rosh Hashanah. So you could say it’s been kind of a short year.
Last year, I wanted to work on being more patient, on enjoying each day as it came. It was a hard year for me, but not the hardest, with so many changes. Josh was commuting, Samuel was in childcare 15 hours a week, and Jonah was a newborn. I loved being with the kids, but I struggled constantly to entertain a 4 year old, nurture a newborn, and take care of a house. I had no idea how to balance all of that. Of course, now that I have an idea, the year’s over. Samuel’s in school, and Jonah’s a toddler.
For most of our relationship prior to last year, Josh and I had either been students or employees in the same history department. Except for the time he spent away on research, we had seen each other a lot. I’ve only recently come to realize how different it is spending so much time apart, even if it is only two or three days a week. I miss getting coffee together or popping into one another’s offices during the day. Our relationship has changed, immeasurably.
Yesterday, I was alone with Jonah from 8am until 3pm. Then it was just Samuel, Jonah, and me, until 6pm. I was working all day on Josh’s birthday cake, cleaning, and dinner, while also trying to take care of Jonah, who was increasingly cranky (I now realize he was showing signs of the virus that really peaked this morning at 3am.) I didn’t freak out. I didn’t lose my mind. I only swore a few times when I messed up the first cake and had to start over, only to realize I needed more eggs and couldn’t find my car keys.
Added to that very mundane rocky day, I got very bad news about someone I care for deeply. There were moments yesterday when suddenly, in the midst of trying to get through the tasks, I felt broken, tears welling up, my breath catching. During one of those moments, I leaned down and put my head on the counter. Suddenly, I felt a little hand tugging on my dress. I looked down, to see Jonah gazing up at me. Five minutes earlier, he’d been screaming his head off, flailing. But now, he said, “Mama?” I knelt down and went to hug him, figuring he needed attention. Instead, he grabbed my head, and pulled it gently toward him, until our forehead and noses touched, “Aww, mama,” he said again, and then kissed me and patted my back. He wanted to comfort me.
There are moments, like when I got the news yesterday, that mortality seems like a horrible curse. When the randomness of certain events in the universe feels like a cruel joke. But then there are other moments, moments where the very frailty and mutability of human life feels like a gift.
I never thought I could feel the weight of Yom Kippur and the words,
On Rosh Hashanah it is written,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die; who shall attain the measure of man’s days and who shall not attain it;
as strongly as I did the year I was pregnant with Samuel, after Natan died. But I did yesterday.
Last week, coming upon an article about the relative earliness of the Jewish holidays this year, I commented that the actual shortness of the year reminded me that life doesn’t wait. Our Gregorian calendar gives us the mirage of consistency, as if time is always the same. This year, I’m thinking of how it actually is different for each of us, and different for all of us at different times. We’re always wanting it to slow down, or speed up.
Yesterday, even as I was struggling to get through my to-do list, I did not want the day to speed up. I kept thinking about people who would do anything to have more time, and about how hard we struggle to have the power to give it to them. The song, “It’s a Great Day to be Alive,” would not leave my mind, strangely. I sang it ironically at some moments, but like a prayer at others. I was hoping that was a true phrase, and striving powerlessly to make it so.