On Tuesday, August 25th, 2020, it will be nineteen years since our son Zeke died. He was just ten days old. He died two weeks before 9/11, and because I was so absorbed with my own personal loss, I didn’t experience the trauma of 9/11 until its anniversary a year later when I watched for the first time the video footage of two planes flying into the Twin Towers. There are parallels between national calamities and traumatic personal losses. Both can open our hearts to the suffering of others, inspire us to service, and remind us how important community is. And in both cases we sometimes come out the other end stronger and more resilient.
We are now in the midst of multiple national calamities: a pandemic, its economic and political fallout, and a reckoning with the systemic and structural racism that has plagued our country since its inception. When asked to write something for the Elul Enlightenment project, I began to think about what got me through the weeks and months after Zeke died, during which I struggled with this enormous loss, buried our son, tried to explain his death to his three-year-old sister Razi who had been waiting for his arrival for so long, mourned, sat shiva, and said kaddish.
Reading through my journal from that time, there were several things that helped me gain strength each day following our son’s death. I clearly had a drive to learn from our experience, to glean value from something so painful and heart-rending, to grow from it. In my first diary entry after his death, I was already searching —and finding— meaning from his short life. I wrote about discovering the unrelenting force of my love for our son despite my fear that we would lose him. I wrote about returning to work at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless a year after Zeke died, and feeling a renewed sense of sacred purpose. I could truly relate to the losses experienced by the families with whom I worked — loss of jobs, marriages, homes, communities, schools, family members, sometimes their physical or mental health. But most of all I wrote about how his life had taught us about how blessed we were to have such a supportive community of family and friends who cradled us in their love throughout that time.
We can call up our inner strength to face the calamities of this national moment by “praying with our feet,” (Frederick Douglass) as so many Adat Shalom members do, as well as by being more loving, present, patient, and empathetic human beings in community. There’s been much written about how to create community during COVID when we can’t be physically together. But community is so much more than physical proximity. Being in community is about taking steps each day to create the community that we want to be in. And being in community is how we’ll ensure that we come out the other end of this stronger and more resilient.