A Very Narrow Bridge

The world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid. ~Nachman of Breslov

Month: December, 2013

Please be Quiet

My train is being held.

I’m on my way to a silent retreat.

And my train is being held.


At 4:30 this afternoon there was a fatal accident north of here. That train is still being held. They gave the passengers water and snacks.

Today is officially the worst day of someone’s life. They received the phone call that anyone who’s ever loved another human being lives in terror of receiving.

Or no one received that call.

Being human is hard.

It’s the hardest thing I’ll ever do. And I am so lucky that I don’t have to do it alone.

I got to hug my son today. When I woke up this morning I had no idea that would be the case. I didn’t know he’d be at my synagogue this morning with his mom and stepdad and little brother.

But there he was.

And seeing him made so many thoughts and mental fluctuations float away. He does that to me. He stops me dead in my tracks like that.

And I’m so lucky to have him. To have him to love like that.

Someone got that call today. That worst day of your life call. I hope.

To think that there might not have been anyone for the callers to call is so much worse.

And so I’m hoping.

I’m actually hoping that today is the worst day of someone’s life. Because being human is too hard to have to try alone day to day.

Because we aren’t alone, of course. None of us is. But it’s easy to forget that. It’s easy to fail to hear the זמרת יה. The Divine Song.

How much harder must it be on the worst day of someone’s life?

So here I am. On a train.

Thinking about the week of silence ahead of me.

And hoping.

Hoping that maybe that silence will help someone hear that they don’t have to believe they’re doing this alone.

Maybe me.

We’re moving now. The conductor says it will be slow going.

But we’re moving.

What’s Happened So Far.

I’ve been given an assignment; I need to write a spiritual autobiography.

I’ve decided to share this outline with you .

I probably won’t share the completed one with you. Sorry.

Here’s what’s happened so far:

It all started with the people.

With the visit from The Rabbi to my house when I was three; I fled in stark terror and hid in my room.

Then Sunday school and “God is One” and the bronze doors on the ark in the sanctuary and trips to the choir loft.

With camp and laughter and boats and swims across the lake and Cat Stevens songs around campfires. With my best friend, whose house was filled with Jewish art and whose parents actually sang whole prayers at Shabbat dinner.

And then it moved to the unplanned-for Bar Mitzvah I demanded.

And confirmation, and studying Buber and Heschel with the rabbi and my friends in his office. To college and helping to take the entire Hillel budget and spend it on a colloquium about peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

To disappointment and anger and running very far away. To a gentle tap on my shoulder and the clear message: “I am still here.”

Then to studying Mishna in my professor’s office. To Israel. To the huppah. To sandwiches and beer and text study in Philadelphia. To youth programming in Baltimore. To Israel again. To blessing my son Friday nights before he was born:

 היה אשר תהיה והיה ברוך באשר תהיה
“Be who you will be, and be blessed in who you will be.”

Then to a bris and another blessing:

“Be like your namesake and listen for the קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה. The thin voice of silence. The still, small voice.”

Then heartbreak. And to the beit din.

To a gentle tap on my shoulder and the clear message: “I am still here.”

Then to potluck minyanim in apartments around New York for Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv. And holidays and Hebrew study.

To Washington DC. To traditional synagogues where I didn’t feel quite at home.

To someone telling me: “You know all this yoga and mindfulness and meditation is just going to bring you back to Judaism, right?” To “Yes, but not just now.”

To a gentle tap on the shoulder and the clear message: “I am still here.”

To a Rosh Hashanah potluck. And then my tallit wrapped around me at Kol Nidrei.

To my mother’s funeral. To shacharit every morning. To latkes and shabbat candles and holidays.

To studying with a havruta. To kashrut. To Shabbat. To Rashi. To piyyutim.

And then to this week: Parshat Vayigash (Bereishit [Genesis] 44:18 – 47:27)  and this line. This one simple line.

לֹא-אַתֶּם שְׁלַחְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה, כִּי, הָאֱלֹהִים
“It was not you who sent me here, it was God.”

I was mistaken. It wasn’t the people who got me to this week. The people were helping. Just, I really hope, as I have been helping them.

What has gotten us all here? You, me, the people who made everything in this post happen,  the cocker spaniel down the street—all of us?

It’s the thin voice of silence saying:  “I am still here. There is nowhere else but Me.”