mourning

Next week is Tisha B’Av (literally, the ninth day of [the month of] Av), a holiday in the Jewish year cycle that commemorates the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples in Jerusalem. Tradition also ascribes to this day various other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, including the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Observance often includes fasting and reading the book of Lamentations — as befits a day of mourning.

Preparation for the holiday begins three weeks before, on the 17th of Tammuz, when (according to the Mishnah) Moses is said to have come down from Mount Sinai, with the first set of the 10 Commandments, seen the children of Israel worshiping the golden calf, and smashed the tablets. My teacher Ebn Leader connects this event with Yom Kippur, when it is said that Moses came down again from Mount Sinai with the second and final set of tablets, and thus the people knew that they were forgiven. Indeed, during these many weeks between 17 Tammuz and 10 Tishrei (Yom Kippur), we carry out a process of forgiveness.

But first we mourn. This has been a powerful metaphor for me lately. I’ve faced some painful realities, and so I’ve had to give up hope for a relationship of mine. (I apologize for the lack of specificity: I’m trying to be discreet without being overly cryptic. And it’s not my husband!)

I’m not sure what mourning looks like in this context. I feel loss. Devastating loss. But I am still in relationship with this person — it’s just not going to be the relationship that I had hoped. And certain limitations mean that this person will likely never be aware of the shift. So I’m dealing with this on my own, and I’m left to wonder: What can that relationship look like now? Am I able make the adjustment? How do I deal with my feelings about the change? Where can I find what I need (what I had once hoped to get from this relationship)? Will I ever be able to forgive the many ways in which this person has let me down?

As Ebn notes in his d’vrei Torah about Tisha B’Av (and it’s really worth reading the whole thing!):

The ninth day of Av is the day we acknowledge Hurban Yerushalayim. We usually translate this as the “destruction of Jerusalem,” but Jerusalem is also “yir’eh shalem”: a vision of wholeness. Tish’ah b’Av is the destruction of the vision of wholeness that we may have had, that may even be the driving force of our life, that is now shattered on the rock of evil and suffering. When we acknowledge that shattering, our love gives birth to disappointment, anger and deep sadness.
I don’t know the answers to any of the questions that I have. This situation and this realization offend my commitment to recognizing the humanity in every person: I don’t ever want to give up on someone. And I know I can’t keep making myself vulnerable in the ways I have in the past. That pain is overwhelming.

Comments

  1. Oh, Salem. I really feel for you. This reminds me of what I went through after my mom died, with my father. In that time, I wasn’t just mourning the actual loss of my mom, but also the mourning the loss of the relationship I thought I had with my father.

    I had to learn a new way of dealing with him in order to protect myself from feeling hurt all the time. Ultimately, the best help came from reading Pema Chödrön (not very Jewish of me, I know). In one of her books, she wrote, “You should never have expectations for other people. Just be kind to them.” I took that as my mantra, of a sort: be kind, but stop setting myself up for disappointment.

  2. Beautiful piece, Salem. Thanks for sharing it. Related: I love Pema so much. SO so much. I received her book as a gift and can share it with you when I’m done reading it.

  3. Theo Coonrod says:

    Sweet Salem. I hurt for you. Please know you are not alone. You are brave and vulnerable, knowing and searching, loving and guarded. . . fully human and very wise. I am proud of you . . . loving you every step of your way.

  4. Kristen T. says:

    Beautiful, Salem – thank you for sharing. I’m going through this with a close friend (not my boyfriend) and you put my thoughts into words. Sending hugs from DC.

  5. Michelle says:

    Salem:
    Thanks for sharing. I’m also feeling this way about a relationship and it brings sadness. I’m sorry you are going through a challenging situation. We miss you in DC!
    -Michelle

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