A Very Narrow Bridge

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

Category: Darkness

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.

Unknown at the Center of Things

Near the center of the cemetery, among some of the oldest graves, there is a small marker. Near the center, surrounded by some of the largest and fanciest monuments. It simply says “Unknown.”

Grave marker for Unknown, Mount Zion Cemetery, St. Paul, MN

We don't know who is buried here, but that doesn't matter.

Is this a case of lost records, of an oversight when the cemetery was moved? Who is buried there? Someone who came to St. Paul alone? Without a family? A Jew?  There is no ready answer and it doesn’t matter—we care for everyone.

Today is Rosh Chodesh. On the most practical level this means an extra-long shacharit service, as evidenced by some surreptitious watch-checking this morning. It also means a lox platter after services. Gotta love a lox platter. But it also means a beautiful commentary on a beautiful commentary, and, most importantly, it means Hallel.

Today as I was singing, my voice cracked a little at the line: “Even maasu ha’bonim haita l’rosh pina.” (The stone that was rejected by the builders will become the cornerstone.) As usual, there are a lot of interpretations of this.

This morning, I thought about Unknown as I sang that. We are all, in some way, Unknown. We are all unknown, but we are also all asked to care for the unknown. Unknown does not necessarily mean rejected, and even if it does, those rejected people can be brought into the center, if we care for them as if they were known to us.

Rosh Chodesh is the new moon, the darkest night of the month when keeping a light going is most important. The moon (seriously, you should have followed the link on the word “commentary“) wanted to know the advantage to being visible during the night and the day: “A latern in the daylight is useless,” she said. But she was mistaken. A lantern in the daylight reminds us that night’s coming and darkness, the unknown, is just a part of life.