Preachers often have claimed to have the answer to why the world is so constructed that we lose what we love. The answer is often beautiful and even convincing, unless loss strikes. Then it fades like the clouds at evening; the dark wipes out the beauty. Losses are the stuff of life. They will not miss you, they will not steer around those whom you love.
We search for an answer to the riddle of "why" because we want control. Give us a way to make sure that we will not lose again. But God gives this privilege to no one.
The blessing we seek in life is not to live without pain. It is to live so that our pain has meaning. The spiritually minded person seeks to live fully despite fear, because to allow fear to direct our lives adds the suffering of anticipation to the pain of the loss. No quality is more essential for a well-lived life than courage. Loss is arbitrary, our valor in living, and our determination to make sense of life, is wisdom. As my friend Linda said about her illness, "I am going to live with the fear, and I am going to really live in spite of it."
|The blessing we seek in life is not to live without pain. It is to live so that our pain has meaning.|
When I was a child learning to swim, I had a hard time floating. I was too afraid of drowning, and I knew that by thrashing my arms and legs I could usually manage to keep my head above water. Learning to float is learning to trust the world, and oneself. Paradoxically, though, it is by floating, by not being afraid, that the wave carries us highest. Sometimes when I floated, the wave covered me, just as it did when I thrashed about. But in between waves I was no longer afraid, and when the wave washed over me, I knew I would soon again ride the crest.
Each person of courage must face the world, a joyous and fearful and hope-filled place. We will lose what we love, but we will have loved. We will reach, and falter. The ocean will not engulf us. We will hold one another and realize that in God's world, none need be alone.
Those who are in trouble need a calmness of spirit from those who care for them. We have to be able to look upon their distress and allow them to bear it. We can share their sadness, we cannot fix their pain. In the book of Job, when Job's friends first see him after the succession of tragedies that befall him, they sit on the ground beside him and weep. Their first reaction is admirable. Only later, when they try to explain to Job why this happened to him, are they condemned. What loss cries for is not to be fixed or to be explained, but to be shared and, eventually, to find its way to meaning.
When we experience a loss, a hole opens up inside of us. It is almost as if the loss itself plows right through us, leaving us gasping for air. We bleed through the opening, and sometimes old wounds are reopened. Things we thought were safely inside, patched over, healed, prove painful again in the wake of the new pain.
Very slowly, the immediate agony subsides. Around the edges of that opening, things begin to heal. Scar tissue forms. The hole remains, but instead of allowing only a constant stream of emptying, it begins to permit things to enter. We receive some of the love and wisdom that loss has to give us. Now is when loss can have content beyond the ache. This is the time to create meaning. Pay attention to what comes in that open space. Nothing can make the pain go away. Making loss meaningful is not making loss disappear. The loss endures, and time will not change that truth. But now it has some purpose.
In the Bible, God often speaks to Moses. There is only one time when a Divine communication is given directly to Moses' brother, Aaron; after the deaths of Aaron's sons. At first the communication seems paradoxical, but then it makes sense. Aaron is changed by this greatest tragedy. A part of him is opened, but through his pain he can hear something that until this moment was too muffled, too distant. Through loss, Aaron hears the voice of God.
My deepest prayer to God used to be to spare me from the pains of life that I so dreaded. Now I see that that is the prayer of a child. As a man I do not pray for a life without pain. Instead I pray: "Dear God, I know that there will be pain in my life, and sadness, and loss. Please give me the strength to create a life, together with those whom I love, where loss will not be empty, where pain will not be purposeless. Help me find the faith to make loss matter. Amen."
Reprinted from "Making Loss Matter: Creating meaning in Difficult Times" by Rabbi David Wolpe. Copyright 1999 by Rabbi David Wolpe. Permission granted by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc. 1-800-788-6262. All rights reserved. Copies of this article may be downloaded or printed for non-commercial, private use only.