September 08, 2020 1 Comment
ק֣וֹל קוֹרֵ֔א בַּמִּדְבָּ֕ר פַּנּ֖וּ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יְהֹוָ֑ה יַשְּׁרוּ֙ בָּֽעֲרָבָ֔ה מְסִלָּ֖ה לֵֽאלֹהֵֽינוּ:
A voice calls, "In the desert, clear the way of the Lord, straighten out in the wilderness a highway for our G-d."
Here in the Northeast, it has been almost six months of varying degrees of self isolation and social distancing. That is six months of sourdough bread Youtube videos or garden experiments or other creative pursuits. Or... not. For some of us, this time at home has not yielded homegrown feasts or the great American novel. For so many, this period of isolation has been one of loneliness, unmet expectations, and waves of loss to be navigated. Many of us have experienced a unique kind of emotional marooning for which we don’t feel completely prepared.
And have you seen the memes? Memes are typically photos with captions framing them that capture a moment of relatable humor or emotion. There’s a meme for every mood and situation. The ones I like best keep telling me to lower my expectations of myself in this time of global pandemic and let myself feel my feelings, shout my feelings, or, in my case, eat my feelings. On digital platforms that are increasingly choreographed and styled, it’s comforting to see these messages of self compassion, and they make me smile as I finish my walk to the kitchen to grab another snack.
I have not used this time to chip away at my layers to reveal the stunningly successful ideal self concealed within. Many mornings, my cursory glance in the mirror reveals the tired face of a mother of two very young children, fighting the good fight to raise kind and connected human beings while somehow maintaining a sense of self. On days when I can find the time and the interest, I look deeper until, in my eyes, I can almost see the soul within. That ageless and tiny flame that forever reaches up, flickering hopefully, a single solitary voice. Surrounded by the darkness of fear and chaos, of social unrest and moral deficits, it asks me pointedly whether I really believe it is time to give up on dreaming for a better life, a kinder, more beautiful world. That soul is untouched by disappointment, illness, loss, and distance, and continues to be illuminated with or without an audience.
This is a favorite time of year for my soul, and the rest of me is dragged along behind it as a reluctant and recalcitrant participant. Rosh Hashanah is coming, my soul chides me. Time to get a few things untangled. Like the lone voice in Isaiah, it calls for me to smooth a straight and holy path for myself and G-d to walk on together. The rest of me resists with six months—or thirty two years—worth of realism, ennui, and existential angst. This year, there is no brimming synagogue sanctuary or joyous community of prayer to ease my sadness. I feel alone. I don’t feel G-d’s presence and my feet are heavy on the path I walk.
But I am not the only one who is alone. An answering call of longing, of loneliness, of desperate prayer and raw emotion reaches me; it is the lone voice of the shofar. Raw and gritty as a ram’s horn it raises its solitary wail. A shofar was chosen to announce the arrival of the new year. Not a chorus of shining trumpets or a string orchestra of subtle and practiced instruments—just a shofar. Just a raw, honest sound of pain, and the desire to unite all those who wander, longing to walk with G-d for just a short way. The shofar puts its arms around my soul and says, Don’t be too hard on this Self you have been saddled with. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to be flawed and messy; what is ugly can be the most profound. The shofar calls all of me to connect, both the beautiful and the ugly, the refined and the raw.
Like Isaiah’s single voice, today we find ourselves in a wilderness. The path twists dangerously and our souls all but despair of the rest of us. But the shofar gives us the permission we didn’t know we were seeking: to come with all of who we are and walk together—close, despite our distance—for just a little while. This year, there are no synagogue doors at which to leave our pain and our struggle. We must carry both with us, just as they are. When we look into our own eyes in the mirror, we must try to bring all of what we see there with us on our journeys. The untouched joy, the pain of yearning, the moral calling, the courage to hope. We must show up with all of it this season. May our prayers and our wordless, lone cries, be heard, and may we be blessed with a healing, joyful year ahead.
Sara Bellin is a non-profit program manager and freelance writer in the Boston area. By day she engages with contemporary challenges in Jewish education, and then pulls up her chair again at home to write articles relating to Jewish lifestyle, identity and values. Bellin lives in Brookline with her husband, son, and daughter.
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