Sunday, May 20, 2007


Perhaps i'll blog about various hindu gods another time, for now i've been thinking about the Jewish rituals around mourning. Having experienced several tragic shivas as a kid and having experienced many non-tragic shivas in the couple years I have come to see much wisdom in this part of Jewish ritual.

this past week i went to the shiva of a good friend's grandmother. she had lived a full life and though the occasion was quite sad after the prayers had concluded the family members passed around pictures and began to share stories, some light and funny others less so. I got to feel like i had known this person, and frankly was sad that i hadn't. this kind of shiva, i think, is particularly beautiful as it can be so life affirming. Somewhat like the recent shivas of my grandfathers. it seems that people, perhaps just in a small subset of the jewish world, have moved towards a model of using the shiva process to tease out lessons from people's lives, share their wisdom, and help refocus us all on what things are important. I can't think of any better way to process death. It is forthright, honest, and meaning-oriented.

The model is also brilliant because it consciously and actively turns over full control of how much to say and to whom to the mourners. they open up when they want and to whom they want, and set the vibes. Traditionally upon entering a house of mourning one says nothing at all to the mourners; no greetings are exchanged except sometimes Ha-makom yenachem et'chem b'toch she'ar avelei Tzion vi'Yerushlayim (May God comfort you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem). As someone who often feels the need to initiative connection, perhaps this is a tradition i should learn to apply more broadly. that aside, the idea that we eschew formalities and some idle chatter can be nice for it focuses us on the person we are considering and perhaps life's deeper questions. alternatively though, idle chatter would be especially useful in time's when people aren't quite sure what to say. though that draws us back to the central tradition, that we take our lead from the people mourning and we talk about what they want to discuss. it could be heavier or lighter, even trivial seeming, but it's not for us to judge, just to be present. It's a little bit like Woody Allen's famous quip "90% of success is showing up". He's right and perhaps he formed his view through the shiva process.


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