I still owe two answers from Bon’s interview questions. This rambling post will be my attempt to answer one of them and summarize my mood for the past few days.
Here’s the question, a very good one, thanks.
4. you observe or acknowledge the Jewish holidays through your year of
consolation, as you make your way around the calendar. what role does
faith play in your life and identity, and what impact has Natan’s death
had on your relationship with belief and the spiritual?
I can’t answer this very well. Every statement would require so much qualification, so much background. But I’ll try. I am very much a believing Jew. For me, mitzvahs are my obligations, not the colloquial good deed. Certainly that provides a core part of my identity. I have an excellent memory and if we were to engage in real & significant conversation, it probably wouldn’t be long before something about Judaism and text came up. That said, I am not at this point observing mitzvot as well as I’d like. I don’t believe that I’ll be punished for my recent lapses even if they are technically sins. It’s not an obvious system of reward and punishment. The word for sin in Hebrew is more correctly translated as missing the mark and I am very much missing the mark right now in my relationship with G-d. But that will not shake my belief, because my belief itself already has been shaped and shaken by prior trauma and years of introspection. Faith didn’t come easily or naturally to me in the first place.
In the weeks and months following Natan’s death, Judaism provided a great comfort for me. I was fortunate to be in a congregation and among friends and faculty who acknowledged the enormity of our loss. Josh and I said the mourner’s kaddish, a mourner’s prayer, although not technically obligated, at appropriate times because it comforted us. I adopted the custom of lighting three candles for the start of Shabbat (the Sabbath) on Fridays because I knew a woman in Israel who lit the traditional two candles plus one for each of her children.
A few weeks or months ago now, I can’t remember, I went to say prayers as I went to sleep and couldn’t do it. I felt angry. I don’t feel angry at G-d for taking Natan – I don’t believe in that engaged of a deity, at least in the present. But still I felt angry when trying to say words of praise and thankfulness. I didn’t feel much like praising the world or thanking G-d for it. The feeling passed, although it returns sometimes. It’s not going to become a dominant feeling for me. It is an extremely foreign one, however, as no previous trauma has ever produced the feeling within me that I would rather just forsake the world than be thankful for it.
I was tired. I am tired. I don’t usually take inspiration from movies, but something in a movie struck me this weekend. We watched, Driving Lessons, an English movie starring two actors from the Harry Potter films, Rupert Grint (Ron) and Julie Walters (Molly Weasley). I enjoyed the movie very much overall, but one scene from it really resonated. Grint’s character is telling Walter’s character, “G-d loves you. G-d forgives you!” Walters’ character shouts at him to shut up and says, “G-d doesn’t forgive. I forgive.” I don’t know the scriptwriter’s theology or his intent with that line. I do know Walters’ character had lost her only son when he was two years old. And I certainly felt the absurdity and insult her character would have felt at being “taught” about her relationship with G-d by a teenage boy.
I realized I am sometimes very angry still. But angry at who and what? Myself, sometimes. My old doctor’s office, sometimes. The nurse who took care of me the last night in the hospital, sometimes. But mostly it’s an undirected anger. Because all of those people I named, including myself, are imperfect. Mistakes may or may not have been made in my care, but no one did it on purpose. So then who’s left to be angry at but the designer of imperfect people and our imperfect world?
It is hard to escape the feeling that Natan’s death was a punishment. But that’s ultimately narcissistic. He was not an expendable little soul that G-d let grow inside of me and then killed to teach me some lesson or make me repent. What could I have done to deserve that? I regret well enough my mistakes but there’s nothing back there so bad it could sentence our son to death. Even still, I need to forgive myself in terms of learning to accept that I am limited. Furthermore, I need to forgive G-d for creating an imperfect world, and to learn how to live in it again without resentment.
I can enjoy a beautiful day, love and be thankful for my husband and family, and be so grateful that I am so close to bringing home a living child. Yet I still feel like there’s been a terrible injustice done, to me, my family, my son, and even my friends. It doesn’t matter that G-d didn’t specifically hand that pain down to me. If I believe G-d created everything, I believe He created the possibility of this happening to anyone. I don’t have to know why, but I have to learn to live with it. I don’t have a choice. And that requires my forgiveness.
I haven’t been entirely ready to do that. I’ve stepped away from the practices that brought me comfort in the first few weeks because they would inevitably lead up to needing to confront my anger. Slowly, but in forward and backward steps, I am moving toward them again.
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